Thursday, April 30, 2009

Change Can Be Funny

Today we had green lentils in the sensory table. One girl decided to stick her hand in, scoop a bunch of lentils out, and dump them on the floor. She's testing limits right now and every day we tell her to keep things in the table. We practice with her each and every day, repeatedly. First I reminded her to keep the lentils in the table. Then, out of sheer exasperation (warning: not-so-great teacher moment coming up here), I said, "The rule hasn't changed since the beginning of the year."

In her sweet little 3-year-old voice she replies:

"But change can be good, Patti!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sawdust, Wood, and Woodland Animals

The Woody TrioSometimes kids surprise you. Usually I think of the sensory table as a place to scoop, dig, dump, and build. With 2s and 3s it's easy to forget that some kids are ready for more imaginative play.

The other day I arrived to find someone had emptied out the sensory table. I forget what I had planned, but it was gone. Since I share a room with other teachers on alternate days, this sometimes happens. Looking in desperation for something safe for our student with allergies, I found a container of sawdust. It's actually more like small wood curls than sawdust.

Great, now what? More scoops and shovels? Wait, there were little logs that were part of a natual building set. I borrowed some of those and then headed to the cabinet where we keep animals. There was a box labeled "Woodland." I think it was a stretch to call some of those animals woodland creatures, but I wasn't feeling picky at the moment.

I WAS proud of myself that wood had figured in each element in the table even though no one else would notice (my co-teacher actually did, though). I realized that we'd have to add scoops later because the kids wouldn't know what to DO with animals, logs, and wood bits, but it looked nice to start with.

It turns out that the kids played with that setup all morning. They fed the animals, they build little homes out of the logs. They gave the animals dialogue. It was super to get such a reminder that sometimes they are ready to be more creative and that we don't have to make all the decisions for them.

A Conference Break

I'm taking a break from posting conference notes. Maybe I'll get back to it next week. We just do so much exciting stuff at school and the conference notes are probably more for me than for anyone else. I only have a few more sessions to write up though, so hopefully I can get it finished for my future reference.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pole Bean Tipi/Teepee Hideout

Pole Bean TipiThe picture here is from a few years ago, but this is a yearly favorite of my kids at home. At school we don't really have a spot for this because there's already a nice garden. At home it moves year to year, always going to the spot where we think nothing else will grow.

So, what you've got here are three V-shaped trellises turned upside down and tied together making a 4-sided shape, roughly a tetrahedron, with one side open. We also hang yarn or string (something that will decompose eventually) horizontally around the structure so the bean plants have something to climb on. I don't bother with the careful preparation of the ground (gardeners, put down your scary-looking shovels for this blasphemy). I just dig a trench in front of the trellis, add some lose dirt, plant the beans, and water. The year this picture was taken we put cardboard underneath the tipi because whatever was growing there before gave my daughter a rash. It made it a nice place to hideout.

As for what to grow, choose any bean that will climb. I'm not a gardener and I couldn't find any seeds labeled "pole beans," (stop laughing, you gardeners out there) but I found lots of climbers. We like to plant colorful ones. Even though we eat beans at home I can't seem to get anyone interested in eating these beans. The kids love to pick the pods and shell them. They get used as play money, treasure, and whatever else seems like a good idea at the time. Purple beans are the most fun because of the unusual color for a food.

Some tips:

- Thin the bean plants! If you grow too many they will grow into the center of the structure, leaving no room for children. You'll also get pods that rot before they have a chance to make nice, fat, beans.

- Consider a larger structure. This tipi is really only big enough for one or two children at a time. We've used trellises up against the fence for a tunnel before and this year we're going to prop some up against our deck, which is high and has a nice secret space underneath.

- Weed and water, if necessary. While beans grow fast, the weeds seem to grow faster and will choke out the beans quickly if you don't stay on it. This is one time when the kids will weed for you because they want their tipi.

As I said, I'm not a gardener, but somehow this works for me every year. It's nice to have on a hot day and it teaches kids something about gardening without it being a crisis if the beans don't grow the way you want them to. If you are a gardener I'm sure there are lots of very good lessons just waiting to be learned with the tipi, but we mostly just enjoy ours. I'm hoping that having my kids learn to enjoy being with plants will motivate them to learn how to keep my house plants alive. *I* certainly don't know how to do it!

Note: I found two acceptable spellings of this structure, tipi and teepee. I don't know which is the preferred, so feel free to tell me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Natural Egg Dye

Beets, Red Cabbage, and EggsWhile this won't be helpful for the Easter that's just over, you can pocket this idea away for next year. Last year we attempted to dye eggs with natural dyes. Since our class is only a half day, my co-teacher and I made several different colors out of various materials. Our thought was that most of the students would dye eggs at home with the kit you buy at the store and we could show them a different way of doing it.

Since the kids didn't see us make the dye the idea that we were doing something different was totally lost on them. My co-teacher decided that this year we would make dye with the kids. She found information on beets and red cabbage which coud be added to the egg cooking water. She cooked the cabbage for awhile at home and brought in a container of it so the kids could see it. The beets she brought in completely raw so she could cut them up and let the kids put the pieces in the pot.
Adding Cabbage to the Pot

So, with one pot of beets and another of cooked red cabbage, the kids carefully added raw eggs (yes, we washed hands after handling the eggs) and water to cover it all. Several kids decided to go with my co-teacher to put them on the stove. After the eggs were cooked we trooped down to the kitchen to see how it went.

The beet eggs came out a pretty mottled pink and the cabbage eggs were mottled light purple, also very pretty. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the finished eggs, so you'll have to take my word for it. We offered the eggs as part of snack. Most kids chose to try one, but as usual, the yolks were not popular.

I'm guessing we will do a variation of this activity again, so if you have any ideas, bring them on!

Allergy Note: If you have any egg allergies in class you should not do this activity. Instead, find other things to dye, like fabric or paper.
Cutting Beets
Note on the Picture Above: You can't see it in the photo, but there is an adult kneeling at the table mere inches away from the sharp knife on the table. No, we do not trust young two-year-olds with sharp knives, despite my desire to let them be independent.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Meaningful Measurements: Connecting Math and Science Standards with Favorite Literary Characters

Due to a lack of open parking garages in Indianapolis on a Saturday morning I missed the first few minutes of this session presented by Dr. Susie Beesley and Mrs. Abby Jadrich of Marian College. In those few minutes, I missed a lot! The rest of the session was so much fun I wish I had to learn about measurement all over again so I could learn it with these two women.

They started off by teaching measurement concepts while using Jack and the Beanstalk for material ideas. Some of the activities were to measure a standard object (our conference program) using beans, measuring that same thing with something that's always the same size, using each person's foot as a measuring device, measuring with one standard unit, and making rulers based on the standard unit.

For the second part of the class we did a measuring Olympics, where each person had to perform a certain task (shotputting a cotton ball, for instance), estimate the distance, and then measure it. The activities were fun, and we were fed chocolate at the end even if we didn't win an event (note to other presenters: bring chocolate and distribute it randomly throughout your presentation and we will all pay better attention).

The handouts included a long list of children's literature that could be used for measurement and science tie-ins. I found this to be an incredibly useful session. While my young 2s and 3s couldn't do most of the activities I certainly can think of some things to do with them that might introduce the concept of measurement that other teachers can build upon later when they're ready to learn more.

As far as I know our presenters did not give us contact information. Rather than searching it out and posting it when they may not want that, if you want to contact them I suggest you go to the Marian College website and search for them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009

So how did Earth Day go this year? Did you have any plans? What did you do?

We had planned to take the 2s out on a walk to collect trash. Even though it was a nice day the grounds were squishy and a fire drill rearranged our schedule for us. So we just spent extra time outside, watered our growing grass seed in the classroom, and did art that used colors found on our planet when viewed from space.

At my kids' elementary school they sang a few songs, picked up trash on the grounds, and planted more flowers than I can comprehend. I think it's great that the kids will now have some ownership over what the school looks like.

So, tell the world about your Earth Day!

My Mental Back Pocket

The Toddler's Busy Book
The Toddler's Busy Book, by Trish Kuffner, along with its predecessor Preschooler's Busy Book: 365 Creative Games & Activities To Occupy 3-6 Year Olds, are my "back pocket" books. By that I mean that I keep an idea or two from these books in my mental back pocket for when the class does the planned activities more quickly than I thought it would or when we need to change gears from the day's plan. Hopefully you can tell from the photo that my copy has been abused a bit over the years, so you know it gets used. Now that my own kids can read they'll look through it themselves and ask if we can do one or more of the activities they've done in the past.

I don't use this book for day-to-day planning, for the most part. It's the book I use when I need to be rescued. For awhile I kept it in my cabinet at school with pages bookmarked, but now I just refresh my mind periodically and keep some activities in waiting. I usually gather the materials needed in advance and just keep them in my classroom until we use them, but many of the activities are so easy to set up I can take a few kids with me to the supply room during the day to get what we need.

This book has plenty of art activities but also things you wouldn't think of as "activities" at all. At home my kids loved a game based on one from the book that they called "Balls, Balls, Balls" and simply involved tossing all our balls down the stairs, gathering them back up, and dumping them again. At school I like to use spring-loaded clothspins as a manipulative occasionally, which is an idea I got out of one of these books.

So what do you keep in your mental back pocket?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Garbage Garden

Planting a Garbage Garden
We recently asked our families to bring in things that might grow, specifically things hiding in the refrigerator or seeds from things they ate. Sprouted vegetables, squash seeds, you name it, we wanted it for our garbage garden.

We placed all the "garbage" items out in a tray. Some of them had to be cut, like carrot tops, and we waited until the children arrived before we did that. We set out dirt, spoons, and separated cardboard egg cartons. Our thinking is that if anything should grow, we can plant the little egg cartons directly in the children's garden in the play yard.
Ready For Love, the Garbage Garden
Along with the spelt berries we planted, we put out our garbage garden items daily for the kids to water. The children are really taking ownership of the grass seed. We didn't put it out on Wednesday of last week because we decided to have "dark day" (I'll post about that another time) and several of them asked about the plants.

At the time of this writing the grass plants are roughly 5-6 inches tall. It's very cool. On Monday one child decided to pull some up to see what was underneath. Good thing it's hardy stuff!
Taking Care of Baby Grass Seed

Monday, April 20, 2009

FOUNDATIONS to the Indiana Academic Standards for Young Children from Birth to Age 5

I thought of going to the FOUNDATIONS session at the IAEYC 2009 conference the same way I think about eating my vegetables: maybe not my favorite thing to do, but necessary. I had heard awful things about FOUNDATIONS, namely that the state was trying to push academic standards down to pre-K and even toddlers. Most folks in early childhood know this is evil, but our politicians (bless 'em, for they're trying to do the right thing) seem to think that teaching academic topics at younger ages will make our kids know more stuff.

I must say I am so glad I went to the session. Most people I know presented with such a thick document will jump right to the meat of the thing, skipping completely over the introduction. That would be a mistake. Unfortunately, the design of the document can lead a person into thinking it's a checklist of all the things a kid should know. Worse, if you just look at the table of contents, you might be shocked to find "Algebra and Functions" under the foundations for birth through three years. But now that I've had an orientation to the document I can honestly say I feel good about what Indiana has tried to do to guide early childhood educators. I'm not thrilled about the format of the document, which I'll discuss in a bit.

The important thing to remember is that this document helps adults create experiences and environments that support foundational learning. The kind of learning they're talking about is what a child needs to know BEFORE learning all the academic subjects listed in the table of contents. So, no babies are learning algebra. But adults are supporting babies by providing exposure to experiences that will allow those babies to be ready to learn algebra when it's developmentally appropriate. There is the recognition that you must walk before you can run, or in this case, children must have opportunities to explore sorting and organizing before learning more advanced math concepts. (By the way, those advanced math concepts are covered in the Indiana Academic Standards which start, I believe, in Kindergarten, NOT the FOUNDATIONS.)

I really like the attachment titled, "Exploring Content in Interest Areas" because it gives concrete examples of what can be done in a grid format. Each foundation has similar information when everyday activities are discussed, but this is a nice birds-eye view that can help parents see that what we do in our classrooms really is learning and not just killing time.

As I said, I have a beef or three with the way the document is put together. First, each foundation is lettered and numbered, which would seem to indicate that they are checklists of skills to be mastered. That just isn't the case, which is stated in the introduction, but it's really tempting to be able to check those suckers off so you can tell parents exactly what their child is ready to learn next. Even though it might make referring to the foundations more cumbersome, I would remove the numbers and simply list them with bullets so there's no idea that they're in sequential order or that every skill must be mastered a certain way.

Second, each foundational area has three parts: "Young children are learning when they" (that's the part that's numbered), "A child can be support by an adult who," and "How it looks in everyday activities." I think it might be more useful to put that first section last in addition to removing the numbers. Additional language might be helpful, something like "Young children are learning when they...among other things." Clearly, the list isn't all-inclusive. It can't possibly be. But somehow it looks like that's what it's supposed to be.

I have one more beef, but it's really small. Why is FOUNDATIONS all capitalized? I don't think it's an acronym. I know that they're foundations and not standards, but putting it in all caps doesn't really help me to draw that distinction.

I am sure there are other ways to improve this important resource. Unfortunately, the state has made staffing cuts that affect the timeline for future revisions. According to the presenter, our group got the last batch of printed documents that she knows of and only because they happened to be in her house. The state isn't printing any more in anticipation of the next revision (that's government, for you). But you can download the whole thing for your reading pleasure at the Indiana DoE website. You know you want to. Our presenter suggested you have your students' parents, the ones who are always offering to do things but never find just the right thing, print it out for you so you don't spend your own money on paper and ink.

By the way, if you teach in Indiana and you use Creative Curriculum, you'll be happy to know that it's already aligned with the FOUNDATIONS. Your work here is done!

I know lots of other states have done the standard thing and a few have done the guideline thing as Indiana has. What do you think?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Seed Planting

Seeds and Dirt
Here you see two trays of dirt and one tray of seeds. The seeds are spelt berries, which I bought in bulk at my local co-op. They sprout quickly and are fairly hardy, which is perfect for preschoolers. We also have spray bottles available for watering the seed/dirt mixture and spoons for spooning things back and forth between trays. In the past I've done this with small tubs placed inside the sensory table to minimize the mess, but other than seeds flying a bit I didn't find it too messy. The table where I set this up is at a better height than the sensory table for several of my students.

Rather than blather on about this one, I'll post more as the seeds (hopefully) grow. These trays will be put out daily so the children can water them and see what's happening to them.

The pictures below show the children mixing the dirt and seeds in their own way.
More Seeds, Dirt, and Kids
Seeds, Dirt, and Kids

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Art is for Babies!

This lunchtime session was led by Christina VanOsdol and covered art activities that can be done by babies and toddlers. We often think of babies and toddlers as incapable of participating in art, but they need it to start exploring different materials and using different senses. Christina now works for IAEYC but has been a classroom teacher.

Christina noted that while we usually think of the visual arts when we think of art, we need to remember music and drama as well. They are equally creative and important. She suggested that with very young children we plan on doing art one-on-one to avoid ingestion of the materials (with the visual arts in particular).

I really wish I could put her handouts up here, because they are a very useful listing of things to do with babies and toddlers. If you already do art with that age group, as I do, it's mostly variations on what you're probably already doing. Even so, new ideas are always welcome.

Christina did mention several books she found useful and that she pulled from for her presentation. They are:

While my notes from the session are a bit lackluster, I have been inspired to get even more creative with my toddlers. They are already comfortable with all your standard basic art activities, so it's time to up the excitement a bit.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Carnival of Play

If you have the chance, go visit PhD in Parenting where they're having a Carnival of Play. No reason to be bored now!

I like blog carnivals because you can get exposed to lots of good stuff that you might not otherwise see. I usually go to the Blog Carnival site to find ones that interest me, but PhD in Parenting is hosting their own carnival that ends on a certain date. Other carnivals are sort of like issues in a magazine in that they come out periodically. Anyway, anyone can usually submit to a carnival. Maybe I'll see some of you listed in a carnival soon!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cooked Spaghetti

Cooked Spaghetti in the Sensory Table
Here's a once-a-year thing for me: cooked spaghetti in the sensory table. We put it in the table with a little bit of warm water, colanders, tongs, spaghetti spoons, plates, and bowls. The kids really enjoy serving up the spaghetti and they get lots of practice squeezing with the tongs. I've only ever had one child taste the spaghetti and by that point it had been touched by so many other children that it didn't taste very good.

Two years ago I put the spaghetti out on trays and it dried overnight. The next day the kids had tons of fun smashing it to little bits. As it dried it made neat shapes. In the two years since it's been rainy when I did this. This year I tried to dry it in the oven. A little paint had gotten into the spaghetti and after two days the spaghetti was still mostly damp and had started to smell. Next year I think I'll try to reboil it before drying it to try to kill anything that might grow while it dries. I also won't pick the rainiest days of the month!

I do have one small qualm about using spaghetti, and it's because we're using food for play. Normally, we teach children that food isn't for play. After all, there are people who don't have food to eat, let alone play with. We have other food that we use in the sensory table, but it's often colored or presented in such a way that the kids don't seem to perceive it as edible. There's just no getting around that with the spaghetti. Also, the other items we use over and over, sometimes for years. I make myself feel better by buying packages that have been smooshed or otherwise damaged that people probably shouldn't be eating anyway, but if you're hungry a little smooshed packaging probably wouldn't bother you.

What do you think about using food for play?

Allergy Note: Clearly, this activity should not be used with your wheat or gluten allergic students. You could make it gluten and wheat free by using rice or corn pasta, but the cost would be extremely high.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Importance of Early Learning Experiences: How Playing IS Kindergarten Readiness!

Otherwise known as the Ooey Gooey Lady, Lisa Murphy is one of my favorite presenters. After a little time with her you feel good about doing what you love for the little people who need you so much. You also laugh so hard you feel like you just did an ab workout. Even though I'd seen most of this presentation before I went to get a little kick in the pants to recharge for the rest of the school year. The handouts for this presentation are available for free on the Ooey Gooey website.

Lisa started with the seven things we must do with children each day. They are:

  1. Create
  2. Move
  3. Sing
  4. Discuss
  5. Observe
  6. Read
  7. Play

Lisa shared with us a graphic she calls "The House of Higher Learning," which is a simple house picture with all sorts of academic topics listed randomly. Underneath the house is the foundation, labeled "Play," which has the first six things in the list above as its components. In early childhood education we create the strong foundation which future teachers will build upon. Without play, the foundation is weak. Our job is to give children lots of experiences so they are ready to learn more academic topics later.


Creating doesn't always mean art and it can't always be something that you can bring home. Building and imaginative play are two such creative endevours, as is problem solving. Lisa then went off into an interesting discussion on the 80 stages of scribbling and announced that "horizontal lines are underrated." She's basically talking about the need for a child to have mastered crossing the midline before being ready for school. She explained that just because a child hasn't crossed the midline at the age we normally send children to school doesn't mean he needs an evaluation. It likely means he just needs time to mature. She explained that even though we send kids to formal schooling earlier than other developed nations we have the lowest literacy rate of developed nations because we're asking kids to learn what they aren't ready for.


It's important to move and kids learn best when they have a chance to move. Even so, in the U.S. 40% of schools have eliminated recess. That's 16,000 children. There are three types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Your classroom should suit all of those types even if you don't learn best in one or more of those ways. The squirmers require movement in order to process information. Lisa pointed out that the U.S. is the only country that allows direct-to-consumer drug marketing. We are also the largest producer and user of ADHD drugs in the world. Coincidence? Just because a kid can't sit still doesn't mean he needs to be assessed ad then drugged, it means he needs to have his learning style appropriately engaged.


Bev Bos says, "Songs are the hooks to hang memories on." Musical intelligence is the first one you get and the last one you lose before you die. When you can't remember anything else in old age you'll remember the songs you learned as a child. It's important for us to give kids some of those songs. And yes, they are learning when you're doing music with them. If you don't know any fingerplays, get to know Hugh Hanley.


Social and emotional competence is more important than knowing the alphabet. Do the kids know how to get their shovels back? If not, help them learn before those shovels become staplers and office supplies. In the handout was an excerpt from an article about how people skills help kindergarteners more than knowing ABCs. Discussing is about learning problem solving and practicing listening and social skills.


Incorporate all the senses, not just looking. Take time to use all the senses.


Read until you can't read anymore. Learn how to fix books so the children can see how much you value them. Provide good books daily. Your goal isn't to get to the end of the story but to instill a love of story. Make sure children see you read. Have books all around your classroom, not just in the book area, and take some outside with you.


Playing is not really a seventh thing, but it is the cement of the foundation. If you don't play while you're doing the other six things the foundation is weak. Play keeps it all together.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mandatory Tweets

OK, I've had enough people tell me that I MUST use Twitter (actually, they're more likely to use words like "gotta" and "hafta" than "must") that I'm trying it. I'm going to slap that widget on the side of my blog here. If you do this whole Twitter thing, leave me a comment and tell me what, exactly, I'm supposed to tweet about. I honestly have no idea. Do you want to hear about how I plan my classes? What I had for dinner? How long I slept last night (the answer is usually not enough to that one).

So, does anyone REALLY care about this whole Twitter thing?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ice Cube Painting

Ice Cube Painting
(This is the other bad picture I took. I apologize. Hopefully my camera won't do this all the time!)

We love to paint using ice cubes. Generally, this involves a colored ice cube and something to hold it with, like a stick. In the picture above we used cotton swabs instead of the more traditional popsicle stick since the last time we did this all the kids thought they were popsicles. As the cube melts it leaves paint on paper. This has a nice watercolor effect even if you freeze tempera paint.

I've done this with straight liquid watercolor (only for classes that aren't prone to self-painting), watered-down liquid watercolor, food coloring in water, and watered down tempera paint. All of them work well. For the paper I like to use manila construction paper.

When we did this last week the cubes weren't melting very quickly, for some reason. It took a little while, but one child figured out how to warm the ice cube in her hand and then paint. Then you also have a painty hand that can make a handprint, which is what most of them did. It's not often you can capture watercolor handprints, so it was a nice bonus.

We did get one girl who insisted that the red ones were popsicles this time. No matter what we did she insisted on putting them in her mouth, so by the time she was done sucking and we were done throwing out the ones she had put in her mouth everyone had to live with purple paint only. We redirected her several times but she kept coming back as soon as she sensed our attention was elsewhere. Can you tell she's in a testing limits phase? Good thing I really like three-year olds!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Friday Keynote: Dr. Jean Feldman

I know lots of people are Dr. Jean fans but this was my first exposure to her. She sings songs, cheers, and fingerplays for young children that are developmentally appropriate.

I confess to not really enjoying her all that much (please don't hate me!). I didn't care for her ultra-cutesy approach and I know I couldn't reproduce it for my kids in the classroom. While I don't doubt that plenty of kids would like her, I also know that there are kids who can spot cutesy from a mile away and dislike it. She liked to say things like, "Smart people are standing" to get us to stand up. But what about the person who's just plain tired and doesn't feel like standing? Is that person stupid?

There is no doubting her enthusiasm, thoughtful approach to choosing material, and research references (though she never actually told us who she was referencing). She clearly loves kids and wants what's best for them.

I had a particular beef with the number of times she mentioned candy and/or fast food in her songs. Yes, I know that these are things that children have in their lives, but don't we want to expose them to something a little grander and better for them? She explained that after the fast food song (which another teacher told me later wasn't actually Dr. Jean's but was from someone else) you can have a talk with the children about healthy eating habits. I think that would suck the life out of the only real reason to sing that song, which is for fun.

On the flip side, I did see real benefit to the karate alphabet. I know a few first graders who would love that.

Of the four of us from my program who were at the conference on Friday, I was the only one who could stand it long enough to stay and I only lasted until about 90% of the way through. The other three teachers hated it so much they left after only a few songs. I honestly can't say I blame them. I know the Tooty Ta is famous and will probably be forever among children's songs, but I know of other people who do it with less cute.

Again, please don't hate me for not liking Dr. Jean!

Dr. Jean can be found at her website:, where she's posted lots of free stuff. She also gave us another reference,, which has lessons and materials for teachers.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


(First, I really apologize about the picture. The day I took this EVERY single picture came out this way. I don't know why. I think I only have one other school picture I'll share that's of this bad a quality, but you can get the idea from the shot even though it's not in focus.)

It's fun to put dirt in the table. Here it's with flowers, pots, and shovels, something like the coffee grounds we had awhile ago.

The trick with dirt is to find safe dirt. If you just dig it up from outside it should be safe. But if you buy dirt you'll find that there are usually chemical additives that warrant the "Keep Out of Reach of Children" warning. You want plain, old dirt, not potting soil.

Cleanup is a breeze. You can store it to reuse (I'd recommend storing it in an open container until it is completely dry or you'll get stuff growing) or you can dump it outside. At our school we have a small gardening area for the kids so we sometimes dump dirt there if it's not going to be kept inside.

In my 2s class we're doing some low-key gardening things right now, so over the next few weeks there will probably be a few more gardening posts. I'd love to hear your indoor gardening ideas. We can't leave things out in our classroom overnight because another class uses the room on alternate days, so it's been challenging.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Making the Connection: Environment, Design, and Children

The very first workshop of the IAEYC 2009 conference for me was about the classroom environment. It was presented by Rob Fields, an architect, and members of the Indianapolis Reggio Collective (I am very sorry but I wasn't able to catch their names). This presentation was a condensation of a half-day workshop, so we covered a lot of ground fast.

First Rob did an overview of architectural principles that go into designing a space for children. For example, young children prefer primary colors, teenagers prefer fluorescent colors, and adults prefer muted colors. He recommended the following process for designing a room:

  1. Pick a neutral background, either warm (browns) or cool (grays).
  2. Then select a color palette based on your age group. These will be accent colors used in relatively small amounts to the background color.
  3. Select lighting that's as close to natural as you can get.

There was some more discussion about architectural things and then we got to the part I really enjoyed, viewing photos of classrooms. Unfortunately, there wasn't much time left for that, so the pictures flew by. The major thing I noted was the use of natural and neutral-colored containers, like baskets, rather than the primary colored plastic bins that seem fairly ubiquitous in early childhood classrooms. Another thing I liked was the use of glass containers so the children could see what's inside for things like paint and other art supplies. I had several presenters over the two days mention that they use glass with children, so apparently this is not unheard of and it can be a good learning tool.

This would not be the only presentation I went to that covered classroom spaces, but it was a good way to start, with foundational material.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

IAEYC 2009-Bound

I'll be off to the IAEYC 2009 conference in the wee hours tomorrow morning. I'll be driving from home both mornings I'm going because, well, let's face it, lodging is not in the budget this year! My intention is to do a small write-up for each session that turns out to be interesting (there's always a dud or two) and spread those out on the blog over the next few weeks. I won't be taking many pictures, if any, while I'm there, so the blog would be very plain indeed if I just posted a bunch of conference notes.

If any of you are Indiana residents I hope I'll get to meet you there!

Mirror Painting

Mirror With Finger Paint
We like to take our large standing mirror from the dress-up area and use it for painting. Typically we use finger paint, but any paint that's not too watery will do. We put the mirror down on a table so the kids can reach the mirror from both sides. The above picture shows the initial setup. For 3s I let them put the finger paint on with spoons from small cups. This is a fairly messy activity, so while I don't force smocks on anyone I am usually strongly upbeat about wearing smocks while mirror painting.

When the mirror is full, use light colored paper to make a print. The kids love to press the paper down, particularly if there's still a lot of paint on the mirror and you can feel it underneath. This is another great chance to talk about colors and mixing and to use some predictive skills in terms of what colors will happen. I generally stick to primary colors for this reason, sometimes adding white or black to see what happens to one or more colors.

For cleanup, a squeegee or plastic scraper is very, very helpful. We sometimes give the kids small sponges so they can help. If your mirror has a wood frame like ours does, it's a lot easier to get the paint off while it's still a bit damp.

A Painted Mirror

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pearly Dough

Clean Pearly Dough Ready for Playing
I found the basis for this play dough recipe in Glues Brews and Goos by Diana F. Marks. I had to change the size of the recipe as well as some of the instructions because I had a lumping problem. I didn't get any pictures of my smooth batches, so you'll have to use your imagination. The last picture in this post is probably be best one in which to see the lumps, if you're into that sort of thing.

The original title is "Pearly Clay," but I couldn't get it to a clay consistency. Also, though the original recipe says it hardens well, I didn't find that to be exactly true. But this is a fun dough because it's a bit translucent.
Glitter Makes It Better
You need:

2 cups salt
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cold water
2 cups cornstarch

1. Combine the salt and boiling water. Allow to cool (this is important to avoid lumps).
2. Combine the cold water and cornstarch.
3. Combine the salt and cornstarch mixtures in a pot, stirring constantly over low heat until it reaches a stuff cookie dough consistency. Allow to cool.
4. Knead the dough until it's as smooth as you like it.

I found it very hard to mix the cold water and the cornstarch. For those of you Oobleck fans, it's stiff Oobleck. If you have the same problem, use less water for the salt and add it to the cornstarch.

You can add liquid watercolors to this dough for a nice effect. Glitter is fun too.

Allergy Note: This recipe contains cornstarch, so it is not to be used in a classroom with a corn allergy.
Here There Be Lumps