Last week, a handful of the students transformed into architects and spent several days creating a city landscape in our block center. The city included parking lots, a school, an airport, a zoo, and of course lots of buildings! Each day, the students added more features to the city such as walls (to keep the animals from escaping), bridges, and more road signs. They also designed maps for their city in case it ever needs to be repaired or remodeled. Then, this week, one of the students proclaimed that it should be called North West City. Each day, the city expands and develops into a more intricate design.
The students have worked together to problem solve when the buildings have fallen apart, where to put new structures, and what to do when they ran out of blocks. The collaboration and synergy has been effortless and is proof that that our once young, wide-eyed students are now confident and ready for kindergarten.
Today in Art class, the students learned about the artist Michelangelo and his work. They read a story about his life and how he sculpted a number of very famous pieces that people travel all around the world to see. They also learned about when he painted the Sistine Chapel and how he had to paint laying down on scaffolding as he covered the entire ceiling with beautiful scenes from the heavens. It was great deal of hard work but the result was a masterpiece.
The pre-k got a chance to create some of their own masterpieces just like Michelangelo did so many years ago.
When the winter months start to roll around, there are often days at a time when the students are stuck inside due to the extremely cold temperatures. Wiggly bodies and pent up energy can be difficult to manage in our small classroom, but luckily we have a trick up our sleeves and it goes by the name of GoNoodle.com. Go Noodle is a website that provides hundreds of videos that gets kids exercising, practicing brain building activities, and even has a mindfulness section that helps bring students back to a calm, controlled state of being.
When signing up for our account, the class was assigned a little creature (named McPufferson) who grows and get stronger the more we complete the videos. The students relish in seeing “our guy” gain points and level up to become bigger and stronger with each video. In just a few weeks, our students have already memorized several of the silly songs, motions, and breathing exercises and often talk about them throughout the day.
The website has been a great resource for us to help fight off cabin fever and get our bodies moving. Anecdotally, I also have to admit that it has been a great way to get my heart pumping on those drab, wintery days. If you are interested in signing up at home, the sight is completely free and there is an option to sign up as a parent rather than a whole class. We highly recommend it!
In the past week, the students have been playing a game during center time called “Letter Builders” where they work with various wooden shapes to build a given letter. At the beginning of the game, the students are given a card with a letter displayed on it and they are asked to figure out which pieces they will need to make their letter. They then take the wooden pieces and place them right on top of the letter card. In most cases, the students exclaim how easy the task is and that they are ready for more of a challenge.
Once the students are comfortable with their abilities to manipulate the shapes, the letter card is then placed on a stand that sits in the middle of the table. The students must now create the letter shape while looking at the letter card from afar rather than directly in front of them. While this seems like it should be an easy task, the children actually must now use their executive functioning skills and working memory to hold the shape of the letter in their minds while searching for the appropriate pieces. Then they must create the shape of the letter in front of them without the help of the card underneath as a guide. The letters that use more straight pieces tend to be the easiest for the students to create, while the letters that use curvy pieces or letter that requires the students to cross the midline prove to be the most challenging. Some of the letters require the students to overlap the pieces, which created an extra challenge for them to tackle.
The last step in the game is when the students must create the letters completely on their own. The letter cards are put away and the student are asked to create the letter completely from memory. This is obviously the most challenging as the students must think about what shapes they will need without an example in front of them to use as a resource. Some students quickly problem solved this issue by looking around the room for the letter they were working on or even looking at a neighbor’s completed letter. The more the students work with the letters and their shapes, the easier the task becomes.
Today, we focused on creating uppercase letters as they are easier to form. Next time we play, the students will be challenged with creating lowercase letters with the wooden shapes. This makes the task slightly more difficult as the students will have to make sure their letter shapes are facing the correct direction. When shifted, even slightly, it can be easy to accidentally create the wrong letter. Letters such as b, d, p, and q look remarkably alike and the students will have to stay focused in order to create the correct letter. We know that our Pre-k Letter Builders will be up for the challenge!
Today, we introduced the students to a new chapter of Forest Fours by implementing a writing component to our day. Each child received a special journal that travels with us while on the trails. The students are allowed to draw pictures of the games that they are playing, the structures they build, or the specimens they see while out in nature (fungus, birds, rocks, deer, etc.). They also are allowed to collect things like leaves or small pieces of moss and tape them into their journals for safe keeping.
In addition to the journals, we borrowed four Polaroid cameras from Mrs. Weber so that the students can take pictures of items that would be too big to fit in their journals. The pictures are then taped onto a page and the students write about what they observed. The journals will travel with us each time we venture into the woods and the children are allowed to fill their journals to their heart’s content whenever they deem it necessary.
Since it’s inception, our class has used Forest Four days to play in an unstructured setting so that they could explore and create at their will. The addition of the forest journals allows students to extend their learning by giving them the opportunity to write, even while outdoors. Through this activity, the students are practicing skills such as fine motor development, phonemic awareness, self-regulation, observation, categorization, identification, and much more. We look forward to sharing our journal entries with you in the future!
This week, the students became interested in a plank of wood that had been used as a part of the circuit on the nature playground. Our students decided to repurpose it and make a bridge on the large rocks. We spent many sessions working out how it could be used safely and problem-solving how to make it more stable for the students to walk on. Today, when the students ran outside to play with the “bridge” they realized that it had been moved to the ground by some of the older students. They immediately started trying to move it, but it appeared to be too heavy/large for just two students to move by themselves, so they began to enlist the other students from different sections of the playground to help.
When more people showed up to help, they positioned themselves around the plank of wood, lifted it up, and started swiftly moving around the rocks. Once they got near the rock that they wanted the bridge, they had to figure out how to maneuver the plank without squashing anyone who happened to be on the other side. With some trail and error, a decent amount of determination, and a little bit of communication they had solved their problem! Not only did they get the bridge back into place, but they were able to stabilize their bridge so that students could safely walk across.
Yesterday, we joined together with the city campus Pre-K class for our annual Nature Day. Our nature explorers spent the whole morning playing, exploring, collecting, climbing, and making new friends. We even got to climb on a large tree that had been cut down on our property. The students couldn’t believe how big it was and were so excited when they figured out how to safely climb on top of it. We also spent some time introducing the new nature playground climbing structure to our new friends. We ended our picturesque day with a singalong and a picnic lunch. We are so excited that the students had some unstructured time to get to know one another and we cannot wait to everyone together again!
Some days we are delighted to find that the students latch onto an idea or hypothesis and just run with it. Today, we were lucky enough to have one of our parents volunteer to read a story called Just A Little Bit by Ann Tompert that involved an elephant and a see saw. The whole book, the elephant tries to play on the see saw, but it just won’t work. He’s too big. Many animals try to come to the rescue by piling on the other side of the see saw but nothing happens. Nothing seems to work until a beetle lands on the animal group and the elephant finally gets to pop up in the air on the other side.
We talked about how this book teaches us about science and that we’re all really scientists. We do science experiments every day without even realizing. When you tell a silly joke and your friend doesn’t laugh, that’s an experiment. When you try a new food that you’re sure is going be disgusting and it’s actually delicious, that’s an experiment. When you launch yourself off the couch and land on your brother, that’s an experiment. (Let’s be honest, some experiments are safer than others.) Sometimes the experiment works and sometimes it doesn’t. What is most important is to ask “why?”. Why didn’t it work? What went wrong? How can you fix it?
Once the story was over, the students jumped at the chance to build their own see saws with our outdoor blocks. Many of the students started on a smaller scale with just one block as the base, while other’s were determined to make their see saws higher. After lots of tinkering and testing, it was decided that the higher see saws were not quite as safe and so we down-graded the amount of blocks that were being used. Some children added the colorful blocks to act as handles, while others used them as a weight so that they could try to see saw by themselves. Even Mrs. Forst joined in on the see saw fun!
There’s nothing better than a recess full of problem solving and physics.
This year, we are piloting a new initiative in Pre-K called “Forest Fours”. On each day four in our cycle, we are going to try to head out into the forest as soon as our entire class is present and we’ve completed our morning jobs. It is our hope that with a more extended period of time in nature, our students will have the opportunity to explore the natural world around them in a very authentic way. The students are free to play, explore, learn, and observe on our nature trails that weave around our beautiful campus.
Today we had our first opportunity to test out “Forest Fours” as the students spent almost 2 hours immersed in nature. We ate snack outside, climbed on our climbing trees, scooped up dirt, invented a new car game, played The Three Billy Goats Gruff, searched for walnuts, and learned new ways to care for the plants and trees on the trail. I’d say it was a success!
Our new playground is open! The children in each grade level are helping us experiment with the equipment as we discover its “climb-ability.”