One of our favorite pastimes in Pre-K is inventing something new with a box. This fall, we had a huge assortment of boxes at our disposal. Before we began designing, we read both Jane Yolen’s What to Do With a Box and Dana Meachen Rau’s A Box Can Be Many Things. We realized that there were so many possibilities, it would be hard to choose just one giant project. To help us narrow our focus, we closed up all of the boxes and pretended they were blocks, instead. After some preliminary “block building” with the pieces we had on hand, a few ideas came to the forefront.
Options provided by the children included a boat, a rocket, a cat, and a castle. One morning, we all voted to find out which design we should choose. At ten votes, creating a castle was easily the most popular choice.
In the past, we’ve always depended upon duct tape for our box construction needs. This morning we began using some new child-friendly box tools. While the hand saws were fun to use, they were a bit difficult for our Pre-K hands to manipulate. However, I was quite impressed with the resilience of the many that returned to using the saws again and again. The screws and screwdrivers were much more comfortably applied. In fact, you might notice that many screws grace our castle as pure decoration.
When the final walls had been battened down, groups of children went off on their own to create accessories. So far we have a chair, a trash can, and two mailboxes. Signs and flags were also quickly posted on the structure.
It’s hard to believe this entire project was put together in one morning. I wonder what direction it will take tomorrow?
This conversation began at lunch yesterday. I’m not quite sure how the topic began and it quickly spread across all tables in our classroom cafe. The children were comparing notes on the proof they claim to have regarding the truth of the Grinch’s existence. Some said he had climbed in their window and left a tuft of hair behind. Others insisted that he had taken their very special bunny. After many offers of supporting arguments, I decided we should probably get to the bottom of this quandary. I asked the children how we could find out for sure if the Grinch was real. They enthusiastically agreed that a trap was the best way to get proof.
G: We put lots of clips on him and take the clips on the door and we keep the clips open with scissors. When he comes in the door, the clips close.
V: The Grinch can walk along and we make a button. When he is coming, we push the button and the cage comes down. Then Victory!
R: I want to put everywhere a net, so he can’t get anywhere and we can trap him in it. We have to put them everywhere. We’ve got to make a sign to say, “No Grinches Allowed!”
W: The Grinch will come into our school. There’s a button that says, “Yummy Tasty Garbage for the Grinch to Eat,” but it tricks the Grinch. It’s really a net that traps the Grinch.
E: When he steps on the pillow, the trap will fall down and pinch his hair, then he’ll walk in and be stuck. I’ll put some garbage in the cage and when he gets it, the door will slam.
X: I made a net. When he eats a hot dog, it will go down on his head. …[G’s] clips will get his feet.
B: We can put traps all over the school and then take them out for people.
K: We need to see if he’s real. If he’s laying in a rope, he’s real. This is the escalator. He’s pulling a rope. It’s capturing him on the rope.
It seems the children have very definite ideas about how traps work. They are also pretty confident that the “Grinch” is a bad-guy no matter whether they believe he exists or not. I’m curious to see how they might build these traps.
Today, our students started a new morning job in our classroom called “Planning and Reflection” journals. After the students have finished the morning message, they are asked to think about what they might want to do/play while at school today. When they have an idea, they record their idea in their journal. Some students draw a picture, others use their kid-writing to get their ideas down on paper, and some do both. Not only does this activity provide the students with another opportunity to write, but it helps guide the children into meaningful play.
At the end of the day, the students will reflect on what actually happened today. Did they stick to their plan or did they decided to do something different? Perhaps a super exciting activity happened today that they would rather write about instead (i.e. soccer with Mr. Cooper or a haunted Art class with Mrs. Allan).
The journals help the students make conscious decisions about their daily activities and if those ideas are worth playing again. They also become a great example of how the students grow and mature throughout the year. The improvement of the students’ ideas, drawings, and writing become very obvious as the year progresses.
You might have noticed that I mentioned Planning and Reflection Journals last week. We introduced these slowly, beginning the 3rd week of January. In fact, my giant version was probably spotted hanging from the front door on the mornings of the first few days. For three days, I wrote my plans for the morning in my journal and shared it with the class. I wanted to make sure that the children were familiar with our expectations before they began their own process. I also shared my reflections at the end of each day during this “intro” period.
Last week, the children began being responsible for their own Planning and Reflection Journals. We have woven the activity into the regular routine of the day. After the children complete the Morning Message and choose a center to play in, they saunter over to the table to record their plans for the morning. Either Mrs. Pless or I are sitting with them to provide support as needed. We expect each child to take their time, draw a picture depicting their plans, and use kid-writing to explain their picture.
The first few entries were predictably lacking detail. For instance, many wanted to write, “play with blocks”. We encouraged each child to focus a bit more on the actual goal they hoped to achieve or story they envisioned telling with their play. With more experience, we are beginning to see much more thoughtful planning and play emerging.
We are also using the same journals to reflect on something that we accomplished today. In the past, this was an activity we did orally. You might have heard the chant, “What did you do today? What did you do in Pre-K?” Some of the children use this opportunity to expand on the same topic they wrote about in the morning. Other children write about unrelated activities. Either way, we are asking the children to focus on their memories of the day and present us with one coherent image. Although we sometimes hear fantastical stories (“Today, my dad was the Hulk and he beat up all of the bad guys.”), this is good practice for reflection. With practice, we hope to see more detailed, intricate plans and accurate memory recall.
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.