April 17, 2014

When we got some money from First Things First, one of the purchases I made for my classroom was a set of “hourglasses”: 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes.  The four timers are different colors and prominently display the number of minutes they time.


I set them out in a bookcase under our science table, where the kids could access them at will.


They did and, using all four timers, they’ve come up with their own game.  They’ve been playing this game for several weeks, not literally every day, but most days.


They are racing the timers, turning over all four, and then rooting for various colors to “win.”  Hmmm.  I wonder if I should tell them that the one minute timer will always win if they are all started at the same time.


I don’t think I will.  Either they’ll figure it out themselves or, to save their game, which they really enjoy, they’ll figure out a way to handicap the other hourglasses.  I kinda hope that’s what they do, don’t you?


April 14, 2014

I was helping plan a multi-cultural summer program at church about ten or fifteen years ago.  My leader had asked me to come up with a puppet the kids could make.  I knew I wanted it to be a marionette, but couldn’t come up with a better body than a soda can wrapped in paper.  So I was wandering through a store, looking for inspiration , when I turned the corner and almost knocked into a big box of pool noodles.  Talk about inspiration hitting you right in the face!  The pool noodles were perfect for the marionette and, as it turned out, for preschool, too.


They’re cheap; they’re brightly colored; they’re easy to cut; and let me mention again, they’re cheap!  I never pay more than a dollar a piece and, late in summer, they can be even cheaper. 


So, several times a school year, I put them out along with toothpicks to hold the pieces together.  Sometimes I add glue. sometimes not.

There is a drawer of cut pieces always available, but they seldom get used unless I put them out.  It isn’t that they feel they don’t have permission to use the things in the drawers.   Every class I’ve taught (since I installed the art center) has taken out the jars of beads and feathers and poms-poms and dumped the jar out on the table to pick out the one they want.  (But that’s another story for another day.)  I’m afraid it’s more like out of sight, out of mind.


(Not the girl the following paragraph is about.)

So this year I was issuing some warnings about not dumping the salt tray while writing in it and so on and so forth, when a girl spoke up with a warning for the class about never ever touching the knife I had out on the art table.  I agreed with her that knives are dangerous things, but this knife could be used with supervision.  I picked it up and ran the serrated edge across my fingers.  I held up my hand to show that I hadn’t cut my fingers.  I compared it to our carbide-bladed saws and laid down some rules for its use.  Those rules got repeated for each of the kids who chose to use the knife, especially for the girl who’d issued the warning.  She made one cut and declared herself “an expert.” Whoa there, my dear.  While I normally love to see that sort of confidence , it’s a bit disturbing to see it pop up with knives.  A  little more caution, please.


April 10, 2014

Do you remember pop-it beads?  Maybe you called them pop beads or snap beads.


They were popular in the 50’s and then seemed to fade away.  Or was it just that I outgrew them? I don’t think so since I don’t remember seeing them when my daughter was little and I was a frequent patron of toy stores. (She would have loved them!)


I actually looked for them online a few years ago and found a lot of “vintage pop-it beads” selling for big bucks on eBay.  Eventually I found some at a reasonable price and, believe me, I ordered them right away.  They are an awesome small motor activity! 


Inserting the bead in the hole can be hard at first.  I’ve actually had kids try once or twice and walk away, although just about every one of them has gone back to the table later and mastered the art of constructing necklaces.


In fact, if there is one problem with pop-it beads, it’s their attractiveness.  Someone always asks as soon as they sit down “Can I take this home?”  I’ve always said no, explaining that they are hard to find and I need to keep them for next year.  But I checked recently.  They aren’t all that hard to find anymore.  Maybe I’ll start saying “Sure!”


April 9, 2014

Last week we undertook a project to make sculptures like Louise Nevelson. I had collected some shirt boxes and I always have plenty of scrap wood around plus a box of popsicle sticks, dowels, and odd wooden pieces.

I don’t like showing models, even of a famous artist’s work. Yet I do want the kids to make a “Jackson Pollock” painting or a “Mark Rothko.” So, what I end up doing is sometimes starting with examples and sometimes not. When I don’t show examples of an artist’s work, I tell myself that art is meant to be a creative exercise, to reflect the artist rather than someone else. When I do show examples, I remind myself that a pianist has to practice scales before composing something new and original. I still haven’t figured out which is better.

This time around I saved the pictures of Nevelson’s sculptures for the end of the project. What I did share early on was a poster of Louise Nevelson herself. When I asked what they thought of her, the answers ranged from “old” to “like you” (meaning old) to “artistic” (they knew she was an artist) to “Chinese.” Chinese?? When I looked again, I saw what they had noticed right away. Nevelson was wearing a Chinese robe with dragons on it. See, multi-cultural education pays off, even if it leads you occasionally down the wrong path.

Their instructions the first day were to fill the box in front of them with wood, any way they wanted. Some glued a couple of pieces down and were done. Some spent a long time carefully arranging their pieces before gluing them.

When they were dry the next day, I put out our metallic paint and invited them to choose one to paint their sculptures. I really wanted them to paint them all one color like Louise Nevelson but was hesitant to say so directly. I’m sure it’s because I’m torn between wanting little Nevelsons and wanting their own creativity to shine. Such is the life of a preschool teacher. *Sigh*


April 4, 2014

Lately we’ve been using our workbench to take machines apart.  I picked up a small speaker at a thrift store the other day for $1 and put it out.  It only had eight screws and I could see that four of them wouldn’t open anything.  (They held some brackets on.)


I had high hopes therefore for the small legs held on by the last four screws.  I figured the screws must do double duty by holding the bottom of the speaker on, too.


I was wrong, absolutely, positively wrong.  My student, a mechanical genius at age almost-5,  got right to work and had all eight screws out posthaste.  The bottom remained solidly in place.  He and I both tried prying in several different places with no more luck than the screws had had.


I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I grabbed one of our saws and offered it to him.  He sawed right where I showed him, along one of the seemingly immovable seams.  When he got ¼ to ½ inch down, all we could see was more wood.  Then he tried across the middle of the back.   More wood.  At this point, I picked up the speaker to reassure myself that it wasn’t heavy enough to be solid wood.  The boy tried a third time right across the front of the speaker.  Wood, wood, and more wood.


That’s when I pulled out the brace and bit, our hand drill.  But first, a little story…


I bought my first brace and bit perhaps ten years ago.  My class didn’t yet have its workbench but the school did and I thought a brace and bit would provide some first-rate small motor exercise.  I may have been right but the brace had a thin bit and it was quickly bent and then broken.  I found a brace with a hefty bit in a store in Colorado one summer and bought it.  When I got it back to preschool, I discovered that it was missing a vital piece and wouldn’t really drill.  Sigh.  Then my husband happened to go to Colorado and bought me another (from the same shop!)  It worked perfectly and my class drilled away, putting holes in various pieces of wood.  Then my patio got broken into and my bag of workbench tools was stolen.  Obviously I was not meant to have a hand drill…until a friend heard my story and gave me his dad’s old drill.  We’re still using it years later!  Thank you, Phil!


I showed the student how to use the drill using a block of wood.  When he could drill comfortably, I turned him loose with the speaker.  He worked for quite a while but he finally managed to drill through to the center of the box.  The wood was quite thick, about an eighth of an inch thicker than we’d sawn.  He drilled a second hole much quicker than the first and a third in no time at all.  The original plan of opening the speaker was long gone, because he was enjoying the brace and bit so much.  That’s fine.  When he’s done drilling, we’ll saw the top off.  In the meantime, he’s getting some great small motor exercise, becoming a confident workman with the drill, and having a bunch of fun.  Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?


April 3, 2014

My preschool has a large plexi-glass sheet in a frame on casters.  I seldom use it and, everytime I do, I ask myself “Why, oh why, don’t I use this more?”   The kids love it! 


So why don’t I use it more?  Maybe because it’s stored in a work room on the other end of the school and I’m just that lazy?  But I walk by the work room every morning when I get here.  Maybe it’s because it’s too easy to put it out and turn them loose; I need projects that show off my original thought and creativity.  (Yeah, get real.  It’s most definitely not that!)  I think the problem is that I just forget about it.  Today I didn’t.


We were spending the morning outside and, as I led the kids along the sidewalk, pointing out the new activities, I mentioned the easel and casually suggested that they could paint mustaches and beards on each other’s faces through the plexi-glass.  Bad teacher!  Since I suggested it, that’s exactly what they did.


All is forgiven though because they were having so much fun and laughing so hard, several kids stopped what they were engaged in and came over to watch.  Just to watch for a few minutes!  Wow!


April 1, 2014

It’s April Fool’s Day today, a wonderful day among fours and fives, who are old enough to get that they’re supposed to fool people but not quite old enough to do it with any skill.  In an average year, I am bombarded with the only two jokes my students seem to know:  There’s something on your shirt!  There’s something in your hair!


This year was different.  When one girl told me that I had a panda in my hair, for some reason, instead of acting horrified and grabbing at my hair, I looked at the girl and told her that I KNEW I didn’t have a panda in my hair.  It was too impossible to be funny.


The kids thought about this for a while and someone attempted a more reasonable joke.  There’s hair on your head!  Okay, I know I have hair on my head; we all do in this room.  That’s too possible, too obvious to be funny.


Then one girl turned to her neighbor and told her “There’s a butterfly behind you.”  The neighbor turned to look and we all giggled.  Now THAT was funny!


March 30,2014

I had spent quite some time before school setting up an elaborate art project I really wanted the kids to try.  It took a little longer because I couldn’t find the braided cord I had intended to use and had to go back for the macramé cord.  Of course, as soon as I was set up, I founded the original cord in a bag with two huge rolls of cloth tape and various balls of twine. 


When I brought the kids outside, I started from the end of the sidewalk with MY art project and we worked our way along the sidewalk.  When we got close to the other end, I pointed to the bag of cord and tapes and mentioned that they could also weave these through the chain link fence if they wanted.


Oh, they wanted, all right.  Literally the whole class started cutting pieces of the cloth tape and attaching it to the fence, sometimes weaving, sometimes clipping it to the fence with clothespins. My project was completely ignored while they decided to make a spider web.

A few kids took the ends of the tape across the sidewalk to tie them to various carts and to our sand table.  Alas, I had to tell them they couldn’t as the sidewalk needed to remain “walkable” and, no, we couldn’t expect other people to pick their way through cords and tape, even though my class was doing exactly that.


They also incorporated some pool hoses we were given, wrapping them around the cloth tape and closing them up


Still, they managed to get some amazing 3-D effects within the limits I set them.  Just look!


March 24, 2014

Every year when I get out the hair dryer, I do so safe in the knowledge that the kids are going to have a blast.  This year is proving to be no exception, with one minor difference.  With such a small class, there are more turns each day and less waiting.  Huzzah!


I used to have a wonderful dryer (courtesy the thrift store) that actually had a broken heating element; it only blew cool air!  It was perfect for preschool.  Even when they pointed it at each other, it was safe.  Alas, that dryer bit the dust.  Now we have a more conventional model.


When I got to school this morning, I couldn’t find the ping pong balls.  No problem; I literally grabbed some feathers off a Styrofoam head and put those out.  The games they play are slightly different with feathers, but we’ll get to the ping pong balls later in the week.


They try to blow the feather around the room (within the rather restricting confines of the cord.)  As one boy was doing so, he noticed the playing cards in our math center and asked if he could use those.  I was delighted, partly because he was thinking out of the box, but also because asking permission is not one of this boy’s strongest gifts.  He definitely lies in the “Ask forgiveness afterwards” category.


He kept piling up the cards and also the poker chips, which for some unknown reason were sharing the cards’ home that day.  He didn’t have much luck as it was hard enough to balance a feather on the dryer and then turn it on.  Most kids just left it running and held the feather above the dryer.  (By the way, the two boys cleaned up all the cards and chips before moving on to another activity!  I couldn’t believe it!!)


I think I should get a second blow dryer before next year when my class will be substantially larger. I really, really like the shorter wait times!!


March 11, 2014

Last Friday we read the book Roxaboxen, a delightful tale of kids building their own town in the desert outside Yuma, Arizona.  The kids were thrilled to learn that it’s a true story that took place in our state.  In fact they immediately suggested a field trip to go see it.  Since we’re only in school for 2 and ½ hours and it would take at least 2 and ¾ hours just to get to Yuma (not to mention the time to find Roxaboxen, to play there, and to get home), it didn’t seem like a viable prospect.  So we’d have to build our own.


We began by talking about the playground but it is (by town-sized standards) rather small and we share it with other classes, including two year olds.  It’s likely they’d take the town apart as fast as we could build it.


We talked about our outdoor classroom but it’s a long narrow area, barely bigger than the sidewalk running through it.  The parking lot was out for obvious, vehicular reasons.  Ah, but the church that houses our preschool has the perfect spot, a sport court!  It does get used by other groups, so we couldn’t outline our streets and houses with rocks; but we could draw them with chalk!


We started right away Monday morning (after receiving permission to draw all over the church’s sport court.)  I had been mildly worried that they’d draw the buildings small and from a front view, the way they’d draw them on a piece of paper.  A few did get drawn like that, but most were highly adequate squares and rectangles, real bird’s-eye views of rooms.  I was thrilled since we hadn’t talked about it at all.  They’d only seen some pictures in the book.  What smart kids!