Helping students to learn about snow and its properties…

“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” ~Dr. Haim Ginott

I live somewhere between the east coast and the midwest so snow is always in abundance during winter. One of the components of our state standards is to observe/discuss changes that happen in nature over time. Winter is a great time to work on this strand. I think the most important thing we can do for children during the early childhood years is to give them real experiences. Not sort-of real experiences, real ones. We could stay inside and talk about snow as we look at it out the window or make paper snowflakes, but that wouldn’t be very real. The motto of every classroom I have ever been in has always been that I will never do something just because it is “cute”. It needs to be developmentally appropriate and provide a real experience for the students. I also however, cannot spend the entire day outside in the snow with my students. :) So here is what we do:

Since we are going to be spending time outside and working with snow, we always make a crock pot of hot cocoa in the morning. Students help measure and pour in the water and chocolate. We leave it on low and then get started with out activity.

I write “Snow is…” on the board/chart paper. I have my students give me as many words or phrases as they can to define snow. We also talk about how snow feels, smells, etc. This is a great way to get prior knowledge, but also gets them ready/excited for the next activities. We discuss the list as a class and then the students put on their coats, gloves, mittens. (I send a letter home a few days prior letting parents know we are going to be going outside for a bit and to send their child in warm clothes that day).  Once we are all bundled up, we head outside with our shovels, buckets, clipboards, and pencils.

Students are assigned cooperative groups and work together to collect snow. I usually group students in groups of three: one to shovel, one to count how many scoops of snow are going in the bucket, and one to tally how many scoops of snow went in the bucket. Once all of the buckets are full, we come back inside and head back down to our room.

After students get off all of their winter gear, they have to document how much snow is in their bucket. They have many options as to how to do this. They can draw a picture of it, measure it using non-standard measurement, use a ruler, use the scales in the room, draw a picture of it in comparison to another object in the room, etc. After this students are required to write something under their picture. For preschoolers invented spelling is encouraged, but if the student is not yet ready to write I write their dictation with a highlighter and they trace the letters. For kindergartners, invented spelling is encouraged. If the words are hard to decipher, I usually write the words underneath it. For first grade on up, emphasis can be on grammar, punctuation, writing a paragraph, etc. We then sit in a large group and students report their results. We discuss how much snow is in each bucket and talk about quantitative words like more, less, most, full, empty, etc.

Now that we have documented how much snow we have, we dump all of the buckets of snow into a sensory table. Students take turns painting the snow using Discount School Supply’s Liquid Watercolor. (I highly recommend this product, it is fantastic and there are so many uses for it. You can check out their website here: http://www.discountschoolsupply.com).

After the snow is painted, students check back every half hour-hour (depending on the daily schedule) and document the changes that are taking place. Eventually at the end of the day, the students will have a few documentation pages. We use this information on a later date for students to make their own snow book.

At the end of the day, we sit in a large group again and students share what they learned. If students are old enough, they write what they learned during a shared writing experience, if not, I record their dictations. Students then get a cup of the hot cocoa we made earlier. They get to add marshmallows if they want and we end the day reading The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats. We compare and contrast our snowy day with Peter’s.

I have used these activities with students in grades preschool through second. What makes a difference is how the activities are expanded for each grade level. As you can see there are many places you can go with this activity, while hitting a multitude of standards. This activity can be as differentiated and individualized as you make it. Students are given a choice of how they want to document. Most importantly however, students are being given a very real experience. By using a real experience to help students learn about states of matter, measurement, volume, etc, it makes the learning more meaningful to them.

Have a blessed week all! Until the next time…

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I love this article!

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” – Deepak Chopra

If you haven’t read the New York Times’ article on the play movement, you should and can do it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/garden/06play.html?_r=2

Play is so vital for children (and I think for adults as well)! In special education, we use it to help children work on their IEP goals and objectives. Intervention models such as Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime (http://www.icdl.com/dirFloortime/overview/index.shtml) are play-based. If you have never witnessed a child truly in the midst of a meaningful, purposeful play experience, it is magical!

I can still vividly remember games that my brothers and I made up when we were younger. Games that involved forts, imagination, scavenger hunts, balloons, and cardboard boxes. Sure I remember the Atari and Nintendo games we played, but the memories of our play are much more vivid. Actually, I can still remember experiences from when I myself was in preschool 20 some years ago. I remember the balance beams, going on nature walks by the pond, when the zoo brought a snake in (that seemed so large, we all sat in a line and held him), the way the snake felt, snack, the block area, and the boat that could also be a bridge.

What I do not remember from my preschool years is pressure to write my name, know my colors, read, or count. I am sure my teachers embedded those things into play experiences and the environment when I was READY for them, but they did not force them down my throat. Guess what? I still learned them and I think I turned out okay  even though I did not have the “kindergarten readiness” drill routines. Believe it or not, I was in National Honors Society in high school, went to an outstanding private college, earned a 4.0 in graduate school, and passed my Masters comprehensive examination “With Distinction”.

To this day, I still have kids who come up to me and remember things they did 4 years ago in my classroom when they were in preschool. There have been a lot of teachers and experiences between when they were my student (though I always think of them as my students, even after they have gone to a different grade) and now, but SOMETHING they did in my room still stands out. The beauty of it is that it is different for each child. You never know what day or experience will be a memory that they keep with them, what experience will form a building block for the rest of their life; which is why it is vital that EVERY DAY and all of the little things that make up that day, COUNT!

Until the next time…

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My Purpose

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates

Hello! I have created this blog to share my thoughts on early childhood education, discuss the pressures everyone (including the students) in early childhood education face, share ideas of things I have found that work, and perhaps educate those who are not involved in the field about what REALLY should be happening during this time of a child’s life. For example, babies should not be reading flashcards, but that is another post for another time. 

My ramblings will be supported in research and developmentally appropriate practices. There are many theories of child development out there and I think they all have valid pieces. Some of the theorists on early childhood education include Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, Urie Bronfenbrenner, and Erik Erikson. For those of you who are not in the field, developmentally appropriate practice basically means that students are getting what they need for where they are in the stages of development.  Not what they need in five years from now (the whole babies reading thing), now. What they receive now will affect their life in five years, so why skip the important parts? Why rush them through childhood and force them to do workbooks, play computer games, and memorize flashcards? Why not let them play outside, paint a cardbord box, put on a play, blow bubbles, build with blocks, play dress up, and play in the sand?

Those things sound so simple right? I can hear people saying “Playing outside is fun, but how is that going to get our children ready for their future?” Let me tell you. When a child plays outside they are working on: large motor skills, eye-hand coordination (which ties in with fine motor skills: the muscles that help you write, tie your shoes, cut paper, zip your coat, and button your pants), motor planning skills, proprioceptive skills (awareness of your body in space), vestibular skills (having to do with balance and movement), and cognitive skills (colors, directional words, qualitative words). If another child is present they are also working on communication skills and social skills (turn-taking, negotiating, playing fair, being a good sport, playing cooperatively). Depending on what they are playing, they could also be working on math skills (how to organize the game so everyone gets a turn, what materials are needed and how many of each material).

I could go on and on, but will stop here for now. Until the next time…..

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