Sunday, August 26, 2018

Two Art-Area-Organizing Ideas

If you're a preschool teacher, you're probably on a bit of a budget.  Even if not, it's always nice to find ways to recycle!  These two simple tips will help keep your art area just that little bit more organized; will provide simple ways for the children to help at clean up time; and can even build a few math skills at the same time!  Here they are, easy as pie:

Organizing your crayons has never been so simple.  Collect and clean out empty food cans--all the same size works best (for those of us with a few OCD tendencies, at least!), and I prefer them short enough so the tips of the crayons can be seen sticking out of the tops.  You'll want the number of cans to be equal to the number of colors in your collection.  Simply cut colored construction paper to wrap around the cans, gluing or taping them neatly on.  Cover that paper with Con-tact paper or clear packing tape, and voila!  Store your cans in a shallow tray or basket, and you've got a nice organized crayon storage method.  Kids can easily transport the whole tray or individual cans to the art table, find the color they're looking for, and can get a little practice in math and color recognition at clean up time :)

Next up:  paper storage!  How many random baskets and tubs of  papers do you have making an eyesore of your art area?!  (I admit that even with this one in use, I still kept other messier baskets on the shelves as well, to provide a larger variety of types and sizes of paper...)  But this is such a perfect paper holder, and fits so nicely on a preschool classroom art shelf, and lets the kids be so self-sufficient and independent, that I consider it a must have.

The box you see pictured below is the storage box from a class pack of markers.  My school always got ours from Discount School Supply (here's a link).  Now if you don't already buy these class packs, you're not going to want to order a set for $90 just to have this paper storage solution!  But if your school already buys them this way, all you have to do is take off the lid, cut your papers to fit, and you're set!  Just as with the crayon cans, this lets the kids be independent, helps them sort and organize naturally, and is a big help at clean up time.  Mine lasted at least five years, and my school went through boxes and boxes of markers each year, so this was a no-brainer :)  You can even cover the bottom of each section with its own color of paper if you really want to help with the whole color sorting idea...

Do you use these or other similar tools to keep your art supplies organized?  Leave your comments below!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Problem Solving in the Classroom

I always used a problem-solving approach in my classroom.  It takes a lot of work at first, but the results are amazing, the children benefit so much from it, and you'll have children as young as two negotiating for the use of toys in no time!  Here's an example of a letter I sent out to the families explaining this method:

Dear families, 
As the school year is right around the corner, we wanted to give you a little bit of information about part of our classroom philosophy.  We use a child-centered, problem solving approach to discipline and guidance in our classroom.  Below is a description of some of the main aspects of this approach. 

*We realize the importance of active listening.  During conflicts (and at all times), children are listened to.  We repeat children’s words in order to reinforce and validate them, and all feelings are accepted and explored.  We also provide words for those children who are pre-verbal or who struggle to communicate.
"Okay, Rosie, it looks like you guys are having a problem with this toy.  Tell me what's going on..."  "Margaret, now tell me how you're feeling."  "Okay, it sounds like you both want to have a turn with this small doll, and you're both feeling pretty frustrated.  Let's figure this out..."

*Because we respect children’s choices and need for time and space, we don't expect or force children to share toys; instead we encourage communication, negotiation, and taking turns.
"So how can we solve this?  You both want a turn with this doll.  What would make you happy, Rosie?  Okay, Rosie's idea is for her to have a turn and then Margaret.  Is that okay with you Margaret?"  (continue until they come up with a solution, and offer solutions to them if they are stuck.)

*We don't solve children’s problems for them; rather, teachers facilitate children’s negotiations, encouraging children’s active participation in their own conflict resolution.
Example: We don't say "Well, I saw Margaret with it first, so she gets the first turn."  That's the easy way, but it doesn't help them come up with their own solutions.

*Knowing that children need repetition and to work at their own pace, we don't set time limits on the use of toys.
Example:  "Alice, I can tell you want a turn with that truck.  Yes, I know Harry has had it for a long time.  Do you want to ask him how many more minutes he's going to be?"  We then help the children negotiate on a time that's okay with both of them.  Though they don't really have a concept of time, just giving them control over being able to contribute to the solution usually solves the problem!

*We don't expect children to apologize or express any other emotion they do not genuinely feel.  We do model sympathy and empathy as we facilitate a conflict resolution.
Example: "Oh no!  Sammy, that hurt, didn't it?!  Ouch!  You can tell Jane she can't hit you with that block!"  "Jane, Sammy is telling you that's NOT okay!"  "Are you okay Sammy?  I'm sorry you got hurt!" No lectures here.  Jane knows she was in the wrong, and giving her a lot of attention about it can backfire and encourage more of the same. We give more attention to Sammy so if Jane is lashing out for attention, she's not getting it.   We've found that having children say they're sorry when they actually aren't helps no one.  When they genuinely feel sorry and express that, we welcome it!

*We remember that although something may not seem fair to us, we do not ultimately determine the outcome of conflicts between children.  We are here to help the children determine their own solutions.
Example:  "I can tell you both want to use this amazing puzzle.  Gloria is asking you how many minutes you're going to be, Frank...  20 minutes?  Is that okay with you Gloria?  Yes?  Okay, I'll tell you both when 20 minutes are up."  Even though 20 seems awfully long to us, that's what they decided on.  In the meantime, Frank will probably finish in two, and when we see that, we'll remind him to let Gloria know that it's her turn.  Since she was able to negotiate, she's probably forgotten all about it anyway, and has moved on to play with something else!  (Be sure you follow through if Frank really does keep playing with it that long.  They both need to know we're reliable and that they will be held accountable for their decisions!)

By using these methods, children acquire important problem solving skills.  They begin to rely upon themselves to figure a problem out, which builds their self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of control.

If you have any questions about this method of guidance, please let us know.  We are passionate about this way of supporting children as they learn to work and play in a classroom setting, and we look forward to sharing and exchanging ideas with you throughout the year!

How about you?  Do you use a similar method in your classroom?  Do you love it like I do?  Comment below :)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Play dough--the details!

Soft and squishy, bright and colorful--what's not to love about play dough?  Upon entering my classroom, it was one of the first things the children were greeted with each day, and was one of the most popular spots in the room.

collage of play dough images

As I mentioned in another post on play dough, I changed the color of the dough every two weeks, and swapped out a selection of open-ended gadgets and gizmos at the same time.  By that time the dough was becoming a bit too crumbly, the toys needed a good soak and scrub, and the scent I'd added had probably faded quite a lot.

So what about those colors and scents?  When I first started out as a teacher, I was lucky enough to get the best recipe ever for play dough from a co-teacher.  I used the same recipe for 25 years (sometimes I'd make a double batch and freeze half to use at another time--it freezes perfectly!)  But it wasn't until I'd been teaching for a few years that I discovered the joys of Liquid Water Color (beautiful, vibrant colors that you just can't get with food coloring), and the added sensory benefits of scenting the dough.

So here's everything I know and love about a good batch of play dough--enjoy!

The Only Play Dough Recipe You'll Ever Need
With a whisk or spoon, stir the following together in a medium pot:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbs. cream of tartar

Add and stir with a whisk or spoon:
2 cups water
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
As much liquid water color as you need to get the desired color
Whatever scent you've chosen (Some ideas are listed below)

Once you've whisked/stirred until there are no more lumps (a minute or two), turn the heat on to medium high.  Stir with a wooden spoon constantly, until the dough begins to form a ball (a few minutes).  It can still be a bit wet and mushy in spots when you dump it out of the pot onto the counter.  Let it cool for a few minutes, and fill that pot with water right away for easier cleaning!  Once the dough is cool enough to handle, knead it/mush it all together, combining any wettish spots with the more cooked parts.  Soon you'll have a gorgeous lump of brightly colored, beautifully scented dough.  You can store it in any airtight container (I usually used a zip top bag or Tupperware-type container.)

Smells and COLORS!
(Make sure there aren't any allergies or sensitivities in your class before you add scents to your dough)

Extracts--from the baking aisle in the grocery store--these go on sale periodically, so stock up!
Peppermint (great with red, green, pink or uncolored dough)
Lemon (yellow--or purple!)
Vanilla (uncolored, brown, black, blue--any color, really!)
Coconut (yellow, tan, turquoise--think beachy colors...)
Almond (uncolored, brown)
Lime (green!)
Orange (orange!)

Kool Aid
You can use Kool Aid to color and scent your dough--but it makes it a little sticky, and in humid weather it can go bad (aka moldy!) quickly, so beware!

Cinnamon (I love this with red or brown dough)
Pumpkin Spice (orange or Thanksgiving)
Italian Seasoning (uncolored, so you can see all the flecks!)

Cocoa Powder
I love to use this to make chocolate scented dough, and it adds a lovely smoothness to the dough, too.  Throw several tablespoons in with the other dry ingredients.  Add lots of black and brown food coloring for a deep chocolate look...

Hopefully you love play dough as much as I do, and use it daily in your classroom.  And if not, you've got no excuses now!  Get going!

Do you have a favorite recipe?  A color and scent combo you couldn't live without?  Post in the comments below!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sensory Table Fillers

I see a lot of pins on Pinterest with sensory table ideas--there are tons of great ideas out there!  But it can be difficult and expensive to switch out the filler very often (which is why I would often make smaller, special sensory trays to use in addition to the big table.  That's for another post!)

In my classroom, I had three main fillers that I kept in the table for extended periods of time.  These were tried and true materials that children can pour, scoop, pile and otherwise manipulate to their heart's content.  They are food items, which is a sticky point for many, as children shouldn't be playing with food, and it's wasteful to use food as a toy.  However, I stored my fillers in large cat litter tubs, and they kept for several years with no problem.  Most of these can be bought in bulk at stores like Cosco, and asking each parent to bring in one bag or box of the filler to get you started is a great way to go about this, too.

First up:  cornmeal.  With grits added to cut down on the dust.  I love how soft and quiet this is.  

Next is my personal favorite:  lentils and split peas.  The feel of these is so soothing.  They sometimes get stuck in a funnel--what a great problem solving moment!

Finally, rice.  This is a common filler--some people even call their table the 'rice table' because that's all they've ever used in it!

I certainly supplemented with other fillers, but mainly I used these and rotated the tools instead.  So easy to give the tools a dunk in a bucket of hot soapy water, and put in a new batch of tools for a new experience.  

A tip for those times you do switch your fillers:  put your storage tub in the middle of the table and use a large dustpan reserved for this purpose to scoop as much of the filler into the tub as you can.  Then you only need to lift the mostly empty table to pour the last few bits into the tub.

Want more ideas of tools and fillers to use in your sensory table?  

Share your favorite sensory table fillers in the comments below!