Beads were one of the many materials we introduced last week. While a small group was creating bracelets, I overheard this conversation regarding the available shapes. (The names are not real.)
Henry: I need a cube.
Henry: Can you hand me a cube?
Harriette: What’s a cube?
Henry: This. (points to a cube shaped bead)
Esther: I have a sphere.
Harriette: I found a cone.
Please remember this was the very first introduction to beads on the second day of school. We have not had any discussions pertaining to geometric properties or three-dimensional shapes. This is an excellent example of spontaneous peer teaching and learning.
One never knows what to expect from lunchtime conversations. Some days, the topics range from magical stories to regaling recent vacations. At other times you might hear discussions on “current events” such as whose birthday party is coming up next or “Do you want to play ‘What Time is it Mr. Fox’ at recess?” It can be quite fun to eavesdrop on the discourse of children.
The conversation circling the lunch table today was a teacher’s dream. Before us was the ideal moment when play, language, child initiative and learning collide. We were still getting food settled on the table when we became aware of the discussion. One of the children was commenting on his family.
“My Daddy is handsome, my Mommy is pretty and I’m handsome, too!”
This lead to a numerical comparison of male and female household members. All participants offered up their gender breakdown. There were connections made, patterns discovered and people counted with 1 to 1 correspondence.
“I have two boys and two girls. One of the boys is my cat.”
This discussion quickly morphed into word play. The children began creating rhymes for their names, practicing letter substitution by replacing the first letter of a name with a new one. Within seconds, members of the group noticed the class names on the window.
“We both have a ‘y’. That’s what is the same!”
And just like that, a single discussion bounced through many learning trajectories.
This entire interaction took no more than six minutes. It involved five children and no adults. (Mrs. Pless and I were watching with rapt attention three feet away, unnoticed by the diners.) Yet, this conversation included more instances of mathematics, literacy language and practice than we could hope for in a teacher led discussion. Not to mention all of the social, emotional and physical practice each student underwent during this short snapshot of lunch.
Children are amazing in their ability to learn. They do so with or without our input. They will practice what they know and push ideas further. Our surprisingly simple job as adults is just to provide them with the tools, be it language or concrete experiences, and support while they grow.
You might have noticed an odd phrase popping up at home lately. Before Spring Break, we noticed that the children’s peer talk was becoming more and more demanding. This happens each year as the children grow increasingly comfortable with each other. By Spring, it’s like a huge sibling sea roiling between calm tides and wild rides. This year, we decided to try introducing the children to an old axiom,
“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
We didn’t spend very much time analyzing the words of the statement. Rather, we talked about and modeled the difference between using kind words to request something and using demanding words. The class labeled kind words as “sugar words.” Demanding, whining, or simply unkind words became “vinegar words.” While Mrs. Pless and I modeled a few examples, the children noticed that when we used “sugar words,” the other person was more likely to agree with us or at least listen. When we used “vinegar words,” an argument generally broke out or we were ignored.
We frequently hear the children reminding each other to use their “sugar words” these days. Luckily, “vinegar words” appear to have mostly disappeared. However, when they do appear, the request to “please use your ‘sugar words'” generally reminds everyone to take a deep breath and try again.
Earlier this week, three of our fourth grade friends presented us with a puppet show. They had spent three weeks writing the script, practicing their lines, and preparing for the show. We adapted the bottom of the loft with some silks and created an instant puppet stage for the performance. The story was pleasantly silly and just the right length for our wiggly Pre-K friends.
The best part about this show, however, was that it inspired our students to create their own puppets shows all week. Although many of the stories involved the store-bought puppets used by the older children, personal puppet creation has also been a big hit. We seem to be producing at least 8 new stick puppets a day.
We’ve been witnessing lots of learning throughout the process. On the first day, the children wanted to make a puppet theater in another portion of the room. Once the silks and the clips were carried over, it took some serious experimentation to find a way to create a hidden spot for the puppeteers. After the stage was set, many negotiations were needed to figure out how a shared story would go. Would she have to be the bad guy? Would he have to be the dog? Could she tell the whole story and everybody else just do what she says? Now that we are on day five of this type of play, the road is a bit smoother, but we’re also getting better at navigating the bumps.
It all started with the Pet Store. Once we began printing our own money and creating price tags, the shopping idea snowballed. While I was working in the dramatic play area, purposefully placing price tags on puppies, Mrs. Pless was observing a completely unrelated (so we thought) scenario in the block area. Two girls at Blocks were setting up the large blocks as tables and placing random containers on each one. There was a potion table, a rock table, and a seashell table. Then the girls began discussing the sale of these items. Aha!
We hadn’t realized that the children on the other side of the room were paying attention to our Pet Shop. However, it seems they were inspired to begin a store on their own. Then, without warning, a telephone salesman appeared. He was carrying lots of phones and wanted help making an iPhone. He found the perfect shelf for his wares and began to sell them in earnest. Later, at lunch, I asked a small group what they thought of all of our stores. One child commented that we were making a Mall.
Thus, our next Morning Message posed the question, “What kind of store might be in a mall?” We had answers such as Build-a-Bear, a pretzel store, a ring store, a jewelery store, a shoe store, and a toy store. One practical student even suggested a food store. We discussed the meaning of “customer” and “cashier” to help them flesh out their scenario language. They’ve also tried their hand at copying money as seen through a magnifying lens and writing checks to pay for purchases. They haven’t asked for an ATM or Check-card, yet, but I’m sure that will come.