Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spontaneity Wins Again

Once again, I was reminded that the best learning, more often then not, happens when I set my plans aside! 

On this particular day, I had a lot of color mixing opportunities planned.  We were going to discover orange. (we were in the midst of preparing for Leprechaun Day, and that involves LOTS of colors!!) The "mystery word" for the day however, was "ramp".  I anticipated setting up one station with ramps along with the plethora of coloring mixing stations I had planned.  I never saw this bit of spontaneity in the horizon at all...I even wore my "I don't care clothes" anticipating messy play today!

Boy...was I wrong!

Instead, we spent the ENTIRE morning playing with ramps.  And not just any ramps.....

It started when Bergen(5) sounded out the mystery word and excitedly told everyone that it was "RAMP!!!".

I asked one simple question in response to their excitment:  "What can we use to make a ramp?"

HERE'S HOW SPONTANEITY ENTERED IN: Just by chance, when I asked the above question, the corner of my eye caught the aluminum foil that I store in a behind the door storage thing-a-ma-jig.  My gears started churning (my gears tend to do that....a LOT)....wouldn't it be awesome to make ramps out of foil, rolls of paper, paper towel etc.  Non-traditional ramps?  BIG ramps!

My mind was zipped back to reality as the boys eagerly answered the question with "the car ramps!"

My response:  "Yes!  We can....but.....let's be clever today should we?  What ELSE can we use as a ramp?"

We then discussed exactly what a ramp needs to do....and THEN the ideas started coming from every direction!

"Our noses are ramps!"
"Our hair can be a ramp!"
"HEY!  My arm can be a ramp!"

"YES!  YES!  YES!"

Then I held up the foil. "Could we use this for a ramp?  Paper?"

Then more answers:  "Books can be ramps!"  "The dress up bucket lid can be a ramp!"  "Your guitar case can be a ramp!"

That is how it began.....and the following photo journal is how one discovery lead to another and another....  Enjoy!

This giant box housed our treadmill.  It has been an important part of the daycare for 3 years.
It is where we play with little legos...but it's also been a pirate ship, a bus and a cave
to name a few uses.

Lift up the box on one end...and we have a ramp!  Use some plastic
square jars at the other end and you've invented a really fun game!

See the learning here?  Cooperation, teamwork, eye-hand coordination
visual motor planning, small motor and large motor skills (not to mention
cause and effect!)

The room was transformed into ramp world!  The white ramp is made out
of paper (from a giant roll of paper I got years ago .... it has lasted us FOREVER!!), the
metalic one is foil, and the closest one is an old shower curtain I use
to protect the floor if we are doing something messy on the carpet.  We attached
them all with packaging tape

A yellow cement form (aka: the tube) was added to the fun!

I love opportunities for children to work together towards a
common goal.

It did not take long for us to discover that not only can balls go down a ramp,
but they can also go up!  Notice Amelia in the orange..she just launched
two balls at the same time...that takes a lot of planning and coordination!

They decided to use the tube to launch balls down the paper ramp.
Jack had made about 6 attempts at getting balls into the tube.  He was successful
half of the time....Ty (the boy holding the tube) was incredibly patient and supportive
of all of Jack's efforts.

When the tube had enough balls in it.... FIRE AWAY!  Was yelled
and the tube was tipped, turning it into a ramp dumping the balls onto
the paper ramp.

Lindsey (in the black pants) is my "gatherer".  She LOVES to gather items in jugs, bags or buckets and
just haul them around. 

Lindsey combined her love of gathering with fun ramp play. 

Ty and Bergen worked together to create this colorful avalanche
of balls rolling down the shower curtain ramp

Gavin was quite proud of the collection of balls he had gathered.
I'm certain it was not easy to carry!  Look at the focus and pride on
his face!!  (Erik, in the forefront, is my thrower...he was demonstrating
great self control to not whip all these balls all over the room...I was impressed!)

Climbing a step stool with your hands full of a big load and
without having anything to lean on is incredibly hard and requires
much motor control and strength!



Lindsey was so proud to be caring this bucket because of it's size.
It's made of mesh, so is VERY light...but just carrying something
that is larger then you is QUITE rewarding!  It's important to note that
my gatherer only filled this HUGE bucket with FOUR balls!!  Every time she did
it....four balls! :)

Can you guess Ethan's favorite color?

What to do when you have had enough ramps?  Cozy up and let a friend
read you a story!

I came upon this scene.  It's important to note that I had nothing to do with this.
The kids organized themselves to accomplish the task of filling the tube
with balls.  MOST impressive!

A long way from the top!

Each child deposited their collection of balls

INCREDIBLE patience and support for each other was
demonstrated as they all stood in line waiting their turn!
What a valuable skill to practice!!

At last....we were getting to the top!

Everyone who helped fill the tube, got to help lift it up and watch the
resulting avalanche of balls!!

And there you have it.  Two hours spent exploring using cause and effect, teamwork, cooperation, patience, trial and error, large and small muscles, coordination and visual planning.  Two hours making discoveries, fostering curiosity, counting, and sorting.

The best part?!  The kids had no clue they we were polishing important life-long skills and preparing for future challenges the entire time!!  In their minds, they were just PLAYING!


Friday, February 24, 2012

The Power of ONE Word

One word.  That's it.  One word set the stage for a morning filled with unexpected learning.  It was a beautiful symphony of the children leading, and my following while quietly enhancing their ideas.  Here's how it all went down:

The mystery word for the day was "up".

Stop.  Rewind.....WHAT is a mystery word?

Mystery word, or word of the day is a brilliant idea my good friend, who I affectionately refer to as "my Jenn" came up with.  This is how it works at my program:

I pick a word that will cause curiosity or intrigue.  A word that might spark imaginations or is full of potential fun.  A word that the children have LEAD ME TO.  When choosing the mystery word, I try to pick a word that enhances the children's interests and ideas.  It's a word that MAY lead my crew in a way that I am prepared for, but usually, the direction they take it in is far more fun and loaded with way more learning then I ever could have imagined!

I hide cut-out letters that make the mystery word, then write the word on a card and hang it on the wall.  I've also tossed a huge pile of letters all over the floor and we go on a letter hunt as I just call out what letter is needed next.  There are many ways that you can plop the letters out there.

When the letters are hidden, the children need to work together to
1) Find them  (All of my littles take great pride in finding a letter!  This is part of the Mystery Word concept that transcends all skill levels.  ALL children feel empowered when they find a letter.)
2) Identify them (It is empowering for children to teach each other.  They love to help a friend identify a letter.)
3) Place them in the right order according to the "map" (The index card with the "Mystery Word" on it serves the purpose of the "map".  There is a great amount of visual tracking and planning, not to mention comparing and contrasting involved in this step.)
4) Sound it out.  (The Mystery Word is a great tool for teaching children the letters in a meaningful way.  Instead of separating out the recognition of letters from the purpose of them....the Mystery Word combines the two concepts and adds more meaning to the learning.  This is a word.  These are the letters.  Each letter makes a sound.  We put letters together to make words.  It is also key that the mystery word is a word that is important at THAT TIME to the children in your program.)

I love to see young children working together towards a common goal.  It is a life-long skill to work together and to cooperate with others. All of these things are done while the children are playing. We do not do a specific time to find the letters. They are found sporadically during play.

In addition to the Mystery Word, my crew has naturally, and quite proudly shared other words they know that begin with the same letter as the mystery word.  This happened organically, and has caught on in my program, and thus happens frequently.  SO, we usually have a word list that accompanies the Mystery Word.  For example, our current mystery word is "tube".  Along side the mystery word is a "Tt" list.  Thus far, we have tube, tic tac, toes, tie, tower, tall, ticket and table on that list.  All of those words were randomly announced by my crew as they popped into their own conversations during play.

NOW....back to the regularly scheduled blog post:

The mystery word was "up".  I cleverly hid the letters UP on the ceiling.  Letter "p" was in the open, but letter "u" was a little more descretely hidden in the shadow of a light.  "P" was found immediately  by a 2 year old that I could lift up to grab the letter from the ceiling.  (The rule is...if you find it, you get to retrieve it.) 

Cole discovered the letter "u".

Cole is 5. I can't lift him up. As soon as he found the letter, he grabbed a chair to stand on (let's face it, there are times when standing on a chair is problem solving...I LOVE IT!), but it did not even come close to lifting him up enough.

Ty was quick to suggest that Cole use the grabbers (more on the grabbers later), but standing on the chair AND using the grabbers STILL did not get Cole up high enough.  I asked a simple question:  "What else can we use that will get Cole up?"

An answer came quick: "A ladder !!!"
So out to the garage I fetch the ladder!  I love letting young children solve problems!  Using what they know to solve problems is a huge esteem booster!  There was so much learning even in the suggestions that did not work!  Trial and error is one of the very best ways to learn.

Cole confidentally climbed up the ladder...until he got to the third
step, then he literally FROZE.  He learned he had a fear.  He felt scared.
I gave him some TLC and support with my hands and he was successful!


If one child gets to climb a ladder....guess what everyone else wants to do?  Climb UP a ladder!  We spent the next 20 minutes taking turns climbing UP...with varying degrees of braveness.
Avery quickly made the accent to the top of the ladder.  No fear
what so ever!

Bergen was also very brave and lickety-split
she climbed right on up and....TOUCHED. THE. CEILING!  Man..
the excitment in the room was contagious as everyone erupted into a chorus
of cheering!

Jack learned that he is not so thrilled to be up.  Two and a half steps was
"up" enough for him!  Still the cheers were there to celebrate
his success!

Not quite Erik....

Determined to touch the ceiling, Erik climbed up until the tips of
his fingers could scrape the coveted ceiling!

When the novelty of climbing the ladder had faded, and the cheering was getting old....we moved on.  I posed another simple question.  "What else can we do that will make us go up?"


(I felt determined to figure out (and quickly) a way for them to SEE how high up they are jumping, I put my brain to work.  Luckily, my brain can do this most of the time.  If yours doesn't, practice, practice, practice because one of the requirements of following young children is to be quick on your feet!)

On this day, my brain came up with an idea that was brilliantly fun!  We used sticky post-it notes to see how high up we could jump!  We jumped, reached and slapped the sticky note to the wall...then we could see how high up we can make ourselves go!

Cole is jumping UP, reaching AND slapping the
post it note on the wall.  A lot to coordinate, and very rewarding
to see how high up that paper lands!

To the untrained eye, it was a room full of jumping children.  But, I could see the learning: we were measuring, comparing and contrasting, challenging ourselves, building self esteems, encouraging others, taking turns, using large and small muscles, coordinating our bodies AND having a BLAST!!

While the jumping continued, I prepared the stations for the day, adding to it one that was inspired earlier that morning with Ty's suggestion of using the grabbers to fetch the letter "u" from the ceiling.

I hooked a paper clip to a circle of yarn and hung them from the ceiling.  Then, without even thinking of the potential,  I quickly grabbed the only thing that I had that wouldn't rip while being grabbed with grabbers...the laminated letters we use to build the mystery word. 

And so, we used the grabbers to reach things that are UP high, as Ty had suggested (and boy, was he proud that his idea really did work!).

Look at the focus in Gavin's eyes!
Little did I know at the time what learning potential was hiding in this very simple, spontaneous moment.  In order to use a 3 ft. long grabber to retrieve a letter hanging from the ceiling, a person needs to use visual motor planning.  They need to plan out ahead of time where the grabber needs to go in order to successfully grasp the letter.  There is also a great small motor workout going on as they squeeze the trigger to make the grabber close in on their targeted letter.  A lot of problem solving, and trial and error as well.  My favorite skill that was being honed, however, was persistance.  This was NOT an easy task.  First of all, muscles have a hard time controlling a long stick, then, if that stick bumps the letter, it will start swaying, making success even more difficult.

A closer look at the letter captured in the paper clip which is
looped on a circle of yarn...then pinned to the ceiling (yes, my husband adores me!!)

But wait...that's not all.  Remember how I said I grabbed the letters without considering the potential learning, only the fact that they couldn't be ripped?  Well....guess what can happen when children are grabbing letters up high? 
1)  Letter Recognition:  They say the letters (because they are proud they know them) and  they help each other identify the letters they are unsure of (they were lower case letters, so far more challenging then the capitals).
2)  They build new words with the letters they have captured!  (this was AMAZING to me!!  I did not see this coming at all, and I was completely thrilled!!)
3)  They take over their own learning!  Ty, Cole and Bergen are all 5 and in the last month have shown an increasing desire to know what things say, and to try to build words.  Here is the first word they questioned:

I hadn't anticipated the building of words with the letters retrieved
with the when Ty excitedly asked me what word
he had made, I put some thought into the letters that were hanging, and changed

This is just more proof that if we are just patient, and listen, children will let us know what they are ready to learn!!

After changing out the letters, I posed a question:  "See if you can make the word "hat"".

It was interesting to watch them work together. 
Cole was the first to start the word by saying "I've got the last guys!" (he had the "t"). 

Together, using teamwork, the three of them accomplished the task of building the word "hat".  I then asked if they could make the word "pat".  They quickly realized what letter they needed and went to work!

Whew!  Was that ever a LOT of learning for 90 minutes....inspired by ONE word!  And...I'm not quite done yet!

After lunch everyday, as the children are laying down, preparing for naptime, we read stories.  What book was read on this day?  One of our very favorites, "The Way I Feel" by Janan Cain.  This is a TERRIFIC book to use to review the morning's activities through feelings.  We all agreed we all felt EXCITED to get the opportunity to climb up a ladder, PROUD was another feeling everyone felt no matter how high they were able to climb, or how high they jumped or how many letters they could grab. SCARED was a real feeling for a lot of the children as they reached that height that caused their bodies to freeze up.  FRUSTRATED was how some felt when they were challenged by the grabbing station.  We talked about how when we feel frustrated sometimes it's good to take a break, and come back again.  Bergen was a good example of this and she was proud to say "but I tried it again and that time I could do it!"  The thing I like most about this book is it's a great way to validate all feelings and to reassure children that the way we feel is OKAY.  This book could be a blog post on it's own (hmmmm...add that to the list)

Now then, a few things for you to do:
  1. Sit back, and digest this blog post.  I apologize it's so lengthy, but there was nothing I could cut back..our morning was that full of learning...and all of it was meaningful and valuable! 
  2. Read it again.  This time, take note of all the learning that occured.  Being able to dissect play down to the learning occuring is a valuable skill necessary for showing others the power of play.
  3. I challenge all of you....the planners and non-planners alike, to try a mystery word.  Put the learning in the hands of your children and out of yours. Be ready to enhance their ideas and grab the needed supplies.  Be prepared for what you think may happen... BUT (and this is the hard part) drop what you are prepared for in order to follow there lead if need be!!
  4.  See what the power of ONE word might do for your program!
  5. And of course....GO PLAY!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning Lurks EVERYWHERE!!

Learning is lurking everywhere!  Let young children lead the way, and learning will be found!!

What began as a spontaneous, "whoops, what was I thinking" kind of a moment turned into a plethora of discoveries loaded with learning.  It's also brought back grand memories of firing corn across the lunch room back in the 80's!!  (yep...color me guilty of participating in food fights...however, in my defense...I shot CORN, people, not mashed potatoes!!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valuable Moments

A jar.
Some balls.

Whoop. dee.doo......right?

Just listen:
Ty had one of the large plastic jars. (the type that the average person buys at Sams or Costco for the good deal they will get on pretzels, but brain developers like you and I buy them with our eye on the jar...and the potential play it will inspire).  Using every ounce of strength in his hands and forearms he unscrewed the lid, and plopped two ballpit balls inside.  One red, one blue.  Repeating the muscle workout, he replaced the lid.

"Denita.  Do you remember this?" 

He proceeded to grasp the jar at either end, then moved the jar quickly as once again, he used every ounce of strength in his hands and forearms as well as his biceps and shoulders.  Plus, his facial muscles were working beyond belief (can you picture this?!!)

What on earth was this child having me remember?  About a year ago, we discovered the fun of a jar and balls.  If you move the jar in just the right way, when you stop moving it, the balls inside will continue to circle the jar SUPER fast.  We adults know this as centrifugal force.....for young children it's's's FUN....and they want to try it again and again to see if it happens everytime!!  This is called CURIOSITY and we brain developers WANT children to be curious!!  We want an environment that fosters CURIOSITY!
Last year, during our "Jammin' J" week we discovered how fun
a giant jar can be!  read more about "Jammin' J"

Ty tried.  He tried.  And he tried.  He could NOT get those balls to move in the centrifugal motion that he knew was possible.  They moved while he was moving, but the minute he held the jar still, the balls came to a screeching hault as well.

I quietly, patiently and painfully observed.  He was SO close to the correct movement, it took every ounce of self regulation (which I sometimes am REALLY good at...and others...not so good!!) to keep from helping him!!  Finally, he asked for some help.  He and I tried it together.  SUCCESS!  Again, we utilized teamwork, and again SUCCESS! 

Our cheering caused Cole to join in on the excitment. Ty tried it on his own.....again...and again.  No success.  Cole came up with an idea....let's ROLL the jar!!  That will do it!!

Of course I knew that would not work...but I did not say a word.  Again, I quietly observed as they tried the new method (imaginations solving problems that caused curiosity....I could have NEVER planned such an amazing moment!) They quickly realized, after four tries, (even children know that one try is not enough...just as scientists try things again and again, children do the same thing when they are given enough time to explore) this method, although fun, was not going to keep the balls rolling.

The child-led learning continued as Ty suggested we add a third ball to the mix!  Then, with a little requested help from me......SUCCESS!
A fourth ball was added.....SUCCESS AGAIN! 

Then Cole suggested we put "ALL THE BALLS IN THE JAR!!!" (with eyes open OH. SO. WIDE!!)

I couldn't resist asking how many balls they thought would fit in the jar.  The answers were all over the board as a greater crowd had formed.

"4"  To which someone was quick to respond "We already KNOW that!"

In the end....TWENTY balls fit in the jar.

The learning STILL wasn't over. Cole suggested we SPIN the jar and see what the balls do!  The colorful results were AMAZING even to an adult!  The kids wanted me to take a picture.  (they had learned from the fun we've had with glowsticks how different a picture of something can be!)  read more about GLOWSTICKS!!

All of this learning occured in a matter of 15 minutes. Trial and error, persistance, teamwork, problem solving, adding, cause and effect, small motor skills, using imaginations to create new ideas, hypothesizing, estimating and cooperation.  All of it unplanned and lead by a child's natural curiosity!!  Show me a worksheet that can do that!

As a brain developer (aka: early childhood profesional), you need to be present, be observant, and see the value in little moments like this one in order to educate parents of the power of play!

You just can't deny's a fact....Play Counts!!