Friday, January 9, 2015

A Morning in the Life of Kaleidoscope Play School

I get asked quite frequently:  "What does a morning look like in your program?"

My response is this:  "It looks different each and every day.  The only constant is snack.  That is the only guaranteed thing that will happen."

I have gotten asked this question enough that I feel it is time for this blog post, to give you a solid taste of my program and my philosophy.

And so, I welcome you to Kaleidoscope Play School.

Here is what you need to know before spending a morning with us:

My program has one session from  8:30-11:45 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday mornings.  This allows for long weekends in which I can travel to speak at early childhood professional conferences and trainings all across the US.


In the words of Bev Bos:  "The children are the curriculum".  
I thoughtfully document the child-led play each day and use that information to set the environment for the following day.  
I do not know what is going to happen until my curriculum arrives every morning.  I have my adult ideas in place, but that doesn't mean that is what will actually happen.
In my documentation I write down what I THINK is going to happen, and then I write down what actually does happen.  Very rarely does my "I Think" match up with "What Happened".
I then use the "what actually happened" (or "the Play-by-Play" as I call it) documentation to set the environment for the next day.


The environment at Kaleidoscope Play School is rich with opportunities for the children to explore, discover, fail, solve, succeed, persevere, grab, squeeze, splat, splash, paint, wonder, test, imagine, invent, collaborate, practice, grip, climb, challenge, assess risk, strengthen, coordinate, track, plan, inquire, instigate and struggle.  All with the goal of building a solid foundation for all future academics to build upon.


All the elements of a traditional "Circle Time" are sprinkled throughout our time together.  There is no scheduled "Circle Time".  

  • Daily, we share, talk, take turns, wait patiently, read books for pleasure as well as inspiration, listen and follow direction.
  • Attention span is constantly being practiced as children follow their interests and have opportunities to use determination to persevere and stay on a task of their choosing (an age-appropriate means to strengthen attention) 
  • Whenever there is an appropriate moment for it, we sing, dance and do finger plays and rhymes.  I will not interrupt valuable child-led play for this.
  • "Calendar time" happens whenever the children discover the hidden calendar numbers.  This does not necessarily happen on a daily basis, and that's okay, since the emphasis is NOT on the days of the week, but rather number order, number recognition and measurement (click HERE to learn more about how I do an age appropriate "calendar time" in my program).  
Go Home

And now, I proudly present to you, 
"A Morning in the Life of Kaleidoscope Play School":

The day I am sharing with you just so happened to be my birthday, Jan. 9, 2014.  (it was a snow-day make up day, so we were together on a rare Friday)

Observations from the previous day included a fascination with melting.  The children melted crayons, hammered frozen balloons to smaller chunks then watched those smaller chunks melt, using an electric skillet set on WARM (a safe way for young children to assess risk, with an adult who is PRESENT) and melting ice using salt and pipettes to squirt warm water onto the frozen balloon.  The mystery word was "melt".

Taking those observations into the consideration, and also considering that the children knew the following day was my birthday, and they were very excited about it, I set the environment as follows:

1)  The electric skillet was ready to roll, but not yet in the environment.  I wanted the children to have an opportunity to ask for what they need.  A VALUABLE skill that many adults could use some practice on! :)
2)  Another balloon had been frozen and was ready to come inside
3)  The salt and warm water were ready
4)  I removed the salted balloon out of the freezer from the day before and placed it on a table with cups of warm water and pipettes.
5)  Scattered about the ceiling were 10 helium filled, mylar balloons (from the Dollar Tree) with strings thoughtfully cut to allow for some problem solving if the children wanted to retrieve them for play.
6) The "mystery word", rise, was at the ready.
7)  Birthday blowers were at the ready, but not yet present in the environment.
8) A vinegar and baking soda activity was also "at the ready" to enhance exploration of the word "rise" if the children led me in that direction, but this was not yet out in the environment

Without further aduex (hey, I do not speak French, other than "Pass the french fries, please", so I have NO idea how to spell "aduex"....  And the way I have chosen to spell it has the "Red Squiggly Line Police" going bonkers.  My apologies to the perfectionists out there! not. :D )

When my littles arrived, to my utter shock and amazement, no one noticed the 10 balloons with ribbons dangling from the ceiling.  
Instead, they went straight for the salted balloon from yesterday.  But this soon became last week's news as excitement grew for the balloons.

This little sweetie was the first to notice the balloons.  Her go-to method for capturing a balloon was simply climbing up on a chair and grabbing with her hand (she caught the balloon that had a slow leak, and was floating quite low).  

Solving problems is encouraged.  
Standing on chairs is something that happens on a regular basis.  It is always accompanied by four simple words from me:  
"What is your plan?"  This gives the child an opportunity to STOP THEIR BODY (hard for some to do, but a necessary skill) and THINK AHEAD.  They then get to express with words what exactly they plan on doing.

Children motivate each other.
One child experiencing success is all the motivation my crew needed.  Instantly, several children were off to gather their own chair and gather the tools they felt they would need to capture a balloon to play with.

The problem solving wall has loads of tools for the children to use to assist with problem solving.

The first tool of choice were the tongs, most commonly used for picking up toys (Sorry, Mary Poppins, to heck with sugar, TONGS make the job a piece of cake!)

This little pumpkin was bursting with pride upon capturing the yellow flower balloon!

Thanks to the simplicity of helium-filled, mylar balloons, children were having opportunities to solve problems, be patient, take turns, FOCUS, stay on task for long periods of time, observe, share their ideas and methods and think outside of the box. They were expressing their thoughts, struggles and unique techniques through words.

My favorite thing about documenting the power of play through photography, is sometimes you capture amazing moments like this next series of pics:

You can see the sheer exhaustion on this child's face, but he was SO determined to GET that balloon down.

Ahhhh..... the sweet taste of success.  Victory is his.....look at that intense face, he knows that balloon is not yet safe in his hands, but it is SO CLOSE....

....and  yet SO.FAR.AWAY.
"NITA!  WHY do these balloons have to rise so fast?"  (Our "mystery word" was "rise" -- I loved hearing them use the word so naturally in their descriptions of the balloons.)
My adult ideas did NOT see this coming!
This child FINALLY was successful, but he was exasperated.  Absolutely BUSHED.  He figured out how to keep that balloon from rising again!  HE TAPED IT TO THE FLOOR!  GENIUS idea!  THAT, my dear friends, is INNOVATION!  It is SO empowering for a young child to come up with an idea, test that idea and then, the best ever, watch his peers COPY that idea!  THAT is far more important for a four year old, than sitting down and reciting flashcards EVER could be.

HA!  Take that Mr. Balloon!  Rise, no more!

while these children were all having fun solving problems, capturing balloons, and taping them to the ground....across the room, the frozen balloon was brought inside.  It's important to note that the child whose idea it was to tape the balloons to the floor, had completed that task, and briskly moved onto the next -- hammering the frozen balloons!

After hammering, the electric skillet was requested (which, due to my observations the day before, I had "at the ready" just for such a request)

These two pumpkins dabbled with the salt-covered balloon -- and by dabbled, I mean spent about 30 seconds and were off to something else.
DABBLING happens in child-led play and THAT is OKAY!

When the hammers were brought out for the frozen balloons, the "workbench" was requested as well.


Back with the balloons, the "air squirters" (aka: water squirters and balloon pumps from the Dollar Tree) were added to the play.  Children were having fun moving the now floating balloons with the power of air.

Children were visual tracking the balloons as they beebopped in the air as they also coordinated a LOT of muscles in order to manipulate the "air squirters".


SUDDENLY, completely by surprise, with no apparent connecting factor (sometimes I can clearly see the flow of play...THIS, I have no idea what led to it...all I can say is it was the definition of RANDOM) the children hopped on a sled.  A really, really long sled with lots of seats.

Me:  "Where are you sledding to?"
One child:  "We are going to check on Santa."
Me:  "Will you be back in time for snack?"
Same child:  "I sure hope so."

I LOVE it when children are able to organize themselves.  This is a prime example of how this happens so naturally in child-led play if we allow the time and freedom for children to do so.  Notice that this entire morning has been led by children.
MEANWHILE..... (oh yes, there's more!)

Through all of this play, the children were discovering the letters that are needed to build our "mysery word":  "rise".  I love to watch this process.  There is a lot of teamwork involved as the children help each other place the letters in the right order, and then determine how many have been found (um..math), and how many are still missing (more math).  They then need to determine the correct placement of the letters (ordinal vocabulary) which letter should be first?  Which one is last?  HOW are we going to make room for a letter that was forgotten about (amazingly difficult for children to solve this problem).


While all the other children were off to visit Santa, this little sweetie was doing her favorite thing to do:  draw.

Because sometimes you just can't get close enough to your paper....

ALWAYS.......take the time to LISTEN.
Children rarely draw "nothing".
This illustrator is telling me that she is pretending to be an airplane in this picture (see the first person drawn in brown on the bottom?  That is her...with her arms out like an airplane).  She went on to tell me that "After my brothers and daddy and mommy saw me being an airplane, they were airplanes too."  (See the sun on the furthest side of the paper? )

As I observe, it is my job, when possible, to 
ENHANCE THE LEARNING.  Listen to the cues the children are expressing and change the environment accordingly.   Sometimes this means adding, and sometimes it means subtracting from the environment.  

In this case, the children were really having a blast with watching the balloons RISE, in the event that this would happen, I had yet another activity "at the ready".

This plan required cups of colored vinegar, clear straws, and a container of baking soda.  Time for another opportunity to use the word "rise".

Figuring out the mechanics involved in capturing vinegar in a straw was VERY challenging for some, and a piece of cake for others.  But the results are SO motivating, every child that chose to participate tried until they found a technique that worked for them.

This is the fist time that the girl, who is grinning from ear to ear with pride, was successful.  See the straw oozing blue fizz in the back?  That is hers.  She was always breaking the seal, and releasing the vinegar before she stuck the straw in the backing soda.  The fizz doesn't rise up the straw then.

Children need delayed gratification.
This activity is loaded with delayed gratification and a very specific way to be successful.   I love that it offers children an opportunity to PAUSE and wait.  Even if it is just for a couple of seconds.  It is still a PAUSE.

Sometimes, I add things JUST BECAUSE....
After about 20 minutes of this, I added some pipettes to the mix...just out of curiosity.

"Just because" can turn into "GRAND" just never know!
The children aimed the pipettes into the straws!  I never saw this coming!  What a fabulous opportunity for eye-hand coordination and visual tracking and planning!  Both necessary for handwriting, and tracking is necessary for reading and math!

Children are innovators.
This child is never content with status quo.  He is always coloring outside the lines to find a new, innovative way to accomplish something.  Without fail.
In this instance, he has put TWO straws together, and is now filling his pipette with vinegar.  So the right hand is holding  the straws together, and the left hand is crossing the body to collect the vinegar.  There is a LOT going on here.

Testing his idea....AND..... SUCCESS!!
You guessed it,
I have two brand new littles. One is a "dive in head first, no hesitation let's just go" kind of a kid.  The other child is a thoughtful observer.  He definitely knows what he likes and what he doesn't.  For example, he is in the very first picture of the baking soda and vinegar fun, with his big brown eyes taking it all in.  This.  Was not for him.

Earlier, when the children were capturing the balloons, he was off playing with the barn in the butterfly house, peeking around the curtain every once in while to observe what everyone else was doing, but choosing not to partake.

He watched as they used the tongs and grabbers (a brand new thing to him).

Fast forward an hour and a half (At least).....and the following occurred, once everyone else had forgotten about the grabbers.  (SIDE NOTE:  the grabbers are an inexpensive reach tool that is considered the holy grail here in my program.  It is the most coveted tool of them all.)

A Plethora of Visual tracking opportunities should be available in all early learning programs.
Pay close attention to those big brown eyes in this picture and following few.  THAT is valuable visual tracking.   THAT is what this child needs for reading success.  He does not need a game on a screen to prepare him, in fact, a game on a screen will do him more harm than good.  Children need to track things in LARGE, OPEN spaces.  They need to track BIG, and then track small.  To do it any other way can be setting children up to fail.  Screens should have no place in the life of a young child.  (gasp...but the technology is so cool! )  Yes.  The technology is cool, but stop and think about how the body is designed to learn and grow and develop.  All natural signs point to NO SCREENS. (NO ipads, iphones, computers, TV (VERY limited) etc.) 10:30, the very first "I'm hungry" was heard.  This is what dictates our "schedule".  The first "I'm hungry" means it is time for me to give the five minute call.  "Boys and girls.  Finish up the task you are doing.  We will be picking up very shortly."

Some play-based programs do not have a pick up time.  I am not one of them.  I believe there is value in picking up.  There is comparing and contrasting as children sort through the myriad of objects that always end up randomly scattered hither and yon.  There is teamwork, cooperation, listening, following directions and chattering.  There is organization, ownership and responsibility.  I am a firm believer in picking up.  NOW, if a child has created the most amazing thing, and they have requested to save it for the next day, I will do anything in my power to do so.

Once the toys are all picked up, the children are told one thing.  "Let me know when you are ready for snack".  I know they are ready when they work together to create a circle (an opportunity to organize themselves...LOTS of vocabulary goes on here, lots of leading and lots of following).

Then, depending on the time and the amount of tummy rumblings, I may get out the guitar and we may sing for a bit, we may chat for a while, we may play a quick, random, follow direction game, there really is no rules with this time, I just follow their lead.  

Today, the children were so absorbed in their play, the tummy rumblings were noticed quite late, so there was no time for guitar and singing. I didn't see a single reason to interrupt ANYTHING that I was observing today to sing.  Singing was not more valuable than the child-led play that occurred.  So we went straight to snack.

At Kaleidoscope Play School, the children own all experiences.  Even getting out their snack (they all bring their own), opening containers (we struggle , we solve problems, we use teamwork and we ask for help), picking up our mess when we are done and cleaning up our spills.

Children need to have the freedom of discovering their own technique.
This sweetie worked VERY hard to get her Oreos opened.  She used the scissors to snip the slightest hole, and then worked from there.  Not the way I would do it, but children need to own a technique that works for them.  They do not always need an adult to show them "the better way".

The sweet face of success.

And then, we finished the day with.......

Thank you for spending a morning in the life of Kaleidoscope Play School with me!  It is my pleasure to give you a peak inside my program and a taste of my philosophy.

I love sharing my passion for the value of play through this blog, my Facebook page, Play Counts as well as speaking at all sorts of events for early childhood professionals, administrators, parents, name it!

If you are interested in having me speak at your event, you can email me at: for more information.

To find out where I will be speaking in the future, check out my website: