Playful Directions

Mrs. Forst's Pre-Kindergarten Blog


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Use Your Noodle: Working Memory

Working Memory.  Sounds like “edu-speak,”, huh?  Maybe it could be referring to a portion of computer processes going on right now within this box of plastics and metals. Could it be the opposite of “Broken Memory?”

Simply stated, it refers to the actions your brain performs when you are “in the moment” and trying to recall and hold onto information to complete a task.  For example, you meet a new co-worker in a 9:00 am meeting.  At 9:15 when you try to introduce her to another employee, you are cursing your memory because you cannot, for the life of you, recall her name.  That is working (or maybe not) memory.

We use working memory for everything from dialing a phone number to knowing which exit to take on the freeway.  Working memory is where we pull up relevant information, analyze how to use it and put it to work.

So how does this effect my preschooler?  Many of the difficulties that young children have fall within the boundaries of working memory.  Is your child “not listening” in class?  Are they seemingly unable to follow directions?  Do they frequently get distracted when they are supposed to be working on a task?  Do they find it difficult to stay on topic when they are part of a discussion?

Young children are growing in this area.  As Pre-kindergarten teachers, we see working memory developing on a continuum.    It is common for new four year olds to have difficulty following 3 step directions.   They have a hard time remembering each part of the direction, holding these in their head and then acting on each in order.

When remembering a string of steps is important, we try to help our students succeed by making our directions as succinct as possible.  We choose to use three or less keywords that represent tasks and routines the children have already had many experiences with.  For instance, when it is time to come inside a commonly overheard chant is, “Boots, coats, carpet!”  This short phrase replaces, “First take off your boots and put them on the tray, then hang up your coat, finally go back to the carpet, have a seat and put on your shoes.”  We have found that using less words makes the directions “stickier” and much easier to recall.

Working memory is visible in kid-writing, too.  Young children generally go through very distinct stages of writing.  When our Pre-K students get to the stage of writing where they begin using letters to represent sounds they hear in our language the first sound in each word is usually all they can hold onto.  With practice, they learn to repeat the word and listen for another sound, maybe a middle or an end.

There are times when the capacity to access working memory goes on the fritz.  Imagine Lucy is sitting in Morning Meeting, watching the teacher, remembering that she needs to look at the speaker, listen with her ears and keep her body safe.  She is holding all of these routines in her working memory while also processing, analyzing and sorting the information spoken aloud in the group.

While she is listening, Lucy thinks she hears one of her peers say her name.  She looks over and sees a couple of friends giggling.  Lucy isn’t sure what is going on, but thinks they must be laughing at her.  She is embarrassed and angry.  Lucy hollers across the room, “Quit laughing at me!”

In this example, Lucy knew that yelling out during Morning Meeting was not the best way to solve her problem, but was unable to pull up other options into her working memory once she began to feel stress.   This can be especially difficult for adults to understand and accept.  Often patience and acknowledging this is development in progress is the best approach.

 

 

 


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All in Time: A Short Frog Tale

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a little group of curious newly-legged frogs spent every waking minute experimenting with their world.  All of the peepers explored and practiced every possible area of learning.  Most, however, found that the winds directing their studies sent them in a variety of directions. A few practiced jumping until their legs could jump no more.  They leapt high and far, increasing their distance with each bound.  Some ambitious amphibians tried their hand, or rather foot, at creating symbols to represent the stories frequently shared within the family.  Pictures and word symbols were attempted, adjusted, abandoned, and accepted.  One lily pad hosted frogs intent only on perfecting their melodious, throaty tunes.  Many of the frogs often attended and excelled at reptilian etiquette class where they learned the finer points of when to croak and when to listen, how to politely solve problems encountered in leap-frog, and how to build positive relationships among the froggy clan.  Each frog found and explored their passion.

Yet all was not perfect in the land of frog.  For the leapers were not necessarily good croakers.  The symbologists occasionally missed their aimed for lily pad.  The successfully social often found symbols and storytelling completely non-compelling.

The adult frogs wanted to know when their athletic little polliwog would finally begin to see the point of symbols.  When would the socially awkward frog, though an amazing hopper, figure out that croaking in his neighbor’s ears was unmannerly.  Why was the worst singing frog in the history of frogsong allowed to remain in the pond anyway? (Though the parents did acknowledge the tuneless little frog was an amazing diver and adept at bug snatching.)

“Wait,” said the teachers.

“Patience,” said the wind.

“Faith,” said the lily pads.

As the months went by, the polliwogs often began to drift toward new endeavors.  Some who had spent all their spare moments leaping began singing at every opportunity.  Others who had found symbology a chore, now sought out the craft as the most obvious way to record their newfound love of reptilian history.  Though it is true that some of the polliwogs held on to their original strengths as they matured, none of them stopped at one discipline for learning.  All of them gained a bit from each experience and in the end, all became committed to the pond and it’s community, contributing in the manner of their genius.

 


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Conferences (Team Family)

There are many ways for teachers to approach conferences.  It could be a time to focus on the academic strengths and weakness of a child.  The social and emotional skills of each student could be the star of the conversation.  We could spend our 20 minutes discussing the activities the children have been involved or their interests in over the past few months.  We could even discuss troubles the child has at home and school, seeing where they meet and work on solutions together.

In the past, I’ve prepared notes for each conference detailing strengths and areas for growth for each student.  I’ve spent the first 15 minutes talking to the parents and then, in the last five asked them if they have any concerns or questions.  I think it worked, but I think we can make our conferences more useful.

This year, I want to try something new. I want to know what you, the parent or caregiver, are most interested in discussing.  We’ve spent two months with your child and are getting to know them pretty well.  You are the members of our team that we don’t know well, yet.

Before you meet with us on Friday, please consider what you’d like to talk about most.  I want our time together to be productive for you, especially since you are taking time out of your busy day to visit with us.  For this reason, one of the first things I’ll ask you on conference day is:

What would you like to talk about today?

 

 


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Give it a try.

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I can do things by myself.

Throughout the day, parents, teachers, and children encounter obstacles that present an opportunity for practice and learning.  As parents ourselves, Katie and I realize how much easier it is to simply do some of the quick and easy tasks for our young ones.  I’m sure there have been many occasions where I simply put my child’s shoes on for him so I could get him out the door in a hurry.  We get it.  However, beginning around 2 or three our children are capable of and should be expected to accomplish a lot on their own.

In case  you’re are still a bit sceptical, here is a list of skills we know *3-5 year olds CAN accomplish on their own:

  1. Putting on their own:
    Jacket/coat
    Shoes/boots
    Clothing, including pants/underpants/shirts/skirts/dresses/socks/mittens
    Hats
  2. Opening their own:
    Bag of pretzels/muffins/chips (anything that comes in a chip type bag)
    Bananas
    Clementines
    Juice boxes (except for Honest Kids…I can’t even open those)
    Tupperware
    Applesauce (with the exception of those new squeeze bottle ones…who’s idea were those screw-on tops?)
  3. Personal care:
    Nose wiping
    Bathroom needs (all regular wiping, cleaning routines…unusual accidents understandably require help)
    Hand washing
    Sneeze/cough covering
    Brushing their own teeth

The good news is we see ourselves as a great practice ground for these new independent experiences. It is much easier for children to adopt unaccustomed roles and routines when they are also in a new environment.

I’m sure my own children take advantage of me whenever they get the opportunity because I’m their Mom.  I’ve been there too long and lived through too many routine changes from infanthood to pre-teen.  Yet, they would never consider pulling the “I’m too little” card on one of their teachers. (Well, maybe they would, but thankfully the teacher wouldn’t fall for it.)

We are here to help them grow and become more independent as they mature toward the ripe old age of 6.

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*Children and adults with true physical challenges might find these tasks more difficult.

Read more @ Responsibility? What’s that?


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A Dash of Risk

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Beginning a new school year is rife with uncertainty.  An unknown routine, strange surroundings, and rooms full of unfamiliar people all contribute to a high level of stress for both children and adults.  Will I know what to do? Will I like what I’m asked to do? What will happen if I’m afraid to try or, worse, try and fail?  Luckily, the reality is that our species has learned to adapt quickly.  Unfortunately, our emotional brains frequently forget this, leading to a fear of risk.

Within our educational bubble, we define risk as an opportunity to take a chance or explore an unknown.  It can involve physical, mental, and emotional tasks.  It becomes an acceptable risk when the consequence for failure is not life threatening nor seriously detrimental to the health and welfare of others.  A risk worth taking must present a substantial benefit that is not off-set by possible treacherous outcomes.

Our children encounter a multitude of risk-taking opportunities everyday.  Some of them seem benign to adults; putting marks on paper, talking to a peer or adult, trying out a new material in play.  Others can make adults nervous, but are important for child development; jumping between two rocks, attempting a joke that ends up embarrassing your parents, hanging upside-down, judging the speed needed to run downhill, using scissors to chop chop chop.

Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger.

Within our classroom, we recognize the risks children meet everyday provide an opportunity to either learn something new or reinforce previous concepts.  Our job is to assess the risks they encounter and balance the potential of the outcome against the possible danger. Our students should leave school comfortable with taking reasonable chances and willing to try something new.  Innovation cannot happen without a moderate comfort with risk.

We want our children to be able practice assessing risks, as well.  While making decisions about small risks such as drawing something you’ve never drawn before, their neurons are practicing for the bigger risks they’ll need to evaluate later.  In this way, children practice making choices based on weighing the options.

Interested in learning more about risk in childhood?

Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It

Outdoor risky play for all

Taking Risks

 


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STEM and Art

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“To a child, the world is filled with endless possibilities. They learn through art what will work and what won’t. Because there is not one right answer, art presents an opportunity to be creative problem solvers or “risk takers” and meet challenges in new ways.  A majority of young children will most likely NOT grow up to be the next Picasso but being exposed to appropriate art experiences from the earliest years promotes divergent thinking skills — valuable for future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. ”

Ginny Streckewald, M. Ed


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Questions Regarding Emergent Curriculum

 

This week, I presented Growing Their Curriculum: The Emergent, Interest-Driven Curriculum (How It’s Done in a Real Classroom) at the Young Child Expo and Conference. We had a lively discussion near the end and we missed a few of the questions posted by attendees.  Below are some of the questions.
IMG_1287How do you incorporate an emergent curriculum when using a prescribed curriculum?

One of the ways to work within this predefined structure is to set aside short sections of your day to study the children’s interests.  Although it is lovely to devote your entire day to child-led research, it is not always possible.  If 15 minutes a day or two periods per week are all you can manage with a hectic schedule, it will still be more than never acknowledging your students’ desires to delve further into their own questions.

How to explain an emergent curriculum to parents?

Parents want their children to grow and succeed.  They need to know that their child will do so in your classroom.  When explaining the use of an emergent curriculum to teachers, I adamantly suggest the requirement of fully knowing your students learning goals be they benchmarks, standards or developmental milestones.  When you know what your children need to learn next, you will know how to support them as they grow.  Once you are comfortable with this knowledge, explaining to parents how you will sheppard  their child along the process is more manageable.  Be ready to explain how their child will practice, experiment and grow in all domains.

The most powerful evidence of the learning possible in an emergent curriculum comes from the children’s own work and voices. Share these with parents and include explanations of the learning happening.  Use documentation boards, blogs, tweets, letters home or any other communication method that works for you to present the parents with examples of their child’s growth.

Is it still Reggio? Do you consider yourself “Reggio-Inspired?”

My teaching is Reggio Emilia inspired. Although a class cannot become “Reggio”, many of the truths at the heart of the Reggio Emilia Schools can be applied within our classrooms.  I believe that each child comes to my class full of curiosity and as a capable, experienced scientist.  My job is to help them explore their interests while providing them with the environment and tools they need to grow in all domains.  An Every Day Story gives a wonderful description of Reggio-inspired teaching.

How do you create art projects based on a family or gardening unit?

First, let me say that there are practically no “craft” projects completed in our classroom.  When we are researching a topic, we often draw, sculpt, paint and invent representations that go along with our studies.  Many times, the creation of a finished product is not nearly as important as the process that goes along with it.  The children’s work is can be seen through photos, their journals, portfolios and their drawings lovingly taped to anything that is not painted.  (We wouldn’t want to damage the walls, so we tape onto everything else.)  I let go of “art projects” when I realized that a beautiful finished product was not the point of using materials.  In our room the following are important:

  • experimentation with materials
  • explorations of a material’s properties
  • discovering limits and boundaries to our plans (gravity, space, time, other friends in our class)
  • investigating options when met by these limits
  • adjusting and moving forward

In a family study, we have drawn and painted our families.  We have sculpted our mothers and built our homes out of boxes.

A garden study might make us curious about how to create a vegetable garden using water colors.  Maybe we’d even make masking-tape vegetables.  There is no denying the joy of unhindered access to masking-tape.

What is the longest time you have worked on a unit?

Just to get this off my chest, I don’t actually refer to our studies as units.  I’m not actually sure why. I think a unit reminds me of a set in stone group of activities that were devised by the teacher to meet the teacher’s goals.  A unit also sounds like a measurement, something with a definite beginning and ending.

I usually refer to our learning as studying topics or conducting research.  A year ago, I had the pleasure of studying with Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Nature School.  Erin refers to her take on emergent curriculum as “flow learning.”  Erin’s program is completely outdoors and naturally (pun intended) connected to the daily ebb and flow of questions offered by the environment.  It makes sense that a topic of study might last for weeks or minutes.  I’ve brought a bit of this flexibility to our classroom.

A topic might be investigated for weeks at a time.  This year, I’m fairly certain we could have continued studying pandas until the children grew beards.  Even though we sensed a shift in their interest and have since moved on, pandas still play a huge role in the children’s play each day.

At other times, an engaging topic springs up so quickly that you daren’t miss the opportunity to learn more.  Our very short (one Morning Meeting) molecule study is a great example.

Then, there are of course, the flops. Sometimes, you notice a string of interest only to watch it fizzle as the children begin to explore it.  No worries.  Emerge yourself onward, my friend.  If we are not learning alongside our students, what is the point?