Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jammin' J

I get asked all the time what my opinion is of "letter of the week" type programs. Here's my stand. I'd love to hear opinions in the comments after you read this.

I, personally do not see a problem with isolating a letter and saturating learning with it, or a couple of letters that have a common bond (like "boring letters" or "letters that curve" or "letters associated with apples" or whatever).

What I do have a problem with is months worth of pre-planned experiences.

I used to be a planner. I would have 9 months worth of plans all neatly written out in my lesson plan book. I knew the children would want to learn about farm animals in March, and we would obviously learn about the letter "F" at the same time.  I knew they would be interested in farms for 2 weeks, and I knew they would like it. I knew we would then move on to learning about Spring, and the letter "S". What this method created was children who depended on me to lead them. They could hardly do anything without first being told what we would be doing. There would be days that I just wanted them to play, and sadly, that would last for about 30 minutes before someone would say "tell us what we are doing today". Their learning wasn't meaningful, it wasn't led by their interests, it was led by what I thought was their interests and what they would want to learn.

Over the past 8 years I have gradually made changes and have evolved into a true child-led program.  This, is what I deem an age- appropriate, child-led way of executing a "letter of the week" type program.

Mondays are "Discovery Mondays" at my daycare. I say "Monday" loosely...sometimes Discovery Day lands on a's whenever we are between discoveries.  On these types of days, I have nothing planned, I just observe the children and follow their lead. This method has brought about all sorts of interesting fun. My favorite is the week that nothing really transpired on "discovery day". No big discoveries, no common questions being asked. By lunch time the children had noticed that we had not chosen a new letter to celebrate. Usually by lunch time, a grand discovery had been made, we had read books pertaining to the new finding, and attached a letter to it. For example:  a child was sharing his experiences at the apple orchard one Sept. Monday, so, letter "A" was determined to "belong" to apples, one icey "discovery day" conversation turned to "I" was the letter celebrated that week along with all kinds of icey fun. I asked them if they just wanted to pick a letter and we would find a way to have fun with it. They thought this was a grand idea. So, they looked at the wall, where all the letters we had celebrated thus far were hanging. It didn't take long for them to realize we had not celebrated Jack's letter "J" yet! Everyone agreed we should have fun with "J"!

And so....Jammin' J "Week" emerged.

By the next morning I had placed a couple of different sized plastic jars in the room for the kids to discover. It was fun to just sit back and quietly observe as the gears turned as to what to do with this jar. They used it to put different things inside. It took quite a while for someone to realize it was a JAR and it started with the letter "J". Once they did, it was quickly added to our list. We have word lists going all the time. On the giant tablet, we keep the list for the letter(s) we are celebrating that week. Then we have a special notebook of lists that can be added to anytime. Any letter, any time. Any time a child realizes a word begins with whatever letter, we excitedly add it to the appropriate list.

After much exploration, and a little suggestion from me. We placed different balls inside the largest jar. It was soon discovered that ping pong balls were the most fun as they would spin and spin forever with a few hard rotations of the jar (see photo).
The heavier balls didn't work as well
as the ping pong balls.  Whew..this was
hard work!

Fun with a jar!  Who knew a jar could
be so fun?

The fun with letter "J" continued until their curiosity moved on, and another letter emerged through conversation and interests.
We had a blast making pepper "jump" with a balloon rubbed on our heads. This sparked the question of what other things we could make jump. We experimented with lots of different items. The one we enjoyed the most (other then pepper) was the tissue paper confetti and strips. We cut skinny, skinny strips of tissue paper then taped one end to the table. We made the untaped end rise up like crazy hair. The confetti jumped just like pepper. Pepper was the most exciting because of the sound it made when it hit the balloon.

CAUTION: this is what can happen when a
child really likes to make things jump
with a balloon!!

We had fun being janitors too. We made a mess by drawing with markers all over the tables. We put shaving cream on the marker scribbles and then used squeegies to clean it away!

"Janitors" keeping things nice and clean!
The finale of our fun with "J" was our "Jammin' Jammy Party". Everyone wore their jammies and brought instruments from home for our "jam session". We finished the day with PB&J (peanut butter and JELLY BEAN) sandwiches!  THIS was quite possibly the best idea I've ever had!  Mallory brought the bag of jelly beans earlier in the week, and I thought what could we do that was extra special with these jelly beans?!  Make jelly bean sandwiches of course!  The peanut butter was there to "glue" the jelly beans in place!  The BEST part?!  After a day of jammin' in jammies we were ready for some peace and quiet. When one is eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you can NOT talk!!!  It takes forever to chew!!  Genius!!

Jammin' in our jammies
This is my nephew. After I set the bowls of jellybeans
on the table and told them to put as many as they
wanted on their sandwiches he had crocodile
tears in his eyes. I asked what was wrong and he said,
"I'm allergic to jellybeans"
I couldnt help but laugh and said "Parker, you are not
allergic to them. Maybe you don't like them, but you aren't
He replied "No, I really am allergic"
This "J" fun was not bound by time. The exploration of all things "J" went well into the following week, (jump ropes, jazz music, jam, jello, junk, and jewelry to name a few). The jar stuck around for months and was a wonderful reminder of the fun we had with letter "J"!

Follow the children's lead, add a letter or two and have fun exploring and learning together!

Play counts after all!!