Sunday, August 29, 2010

My new best activity ever!

I’m not sure if I’ve ever enjoyed an activity as much as I enjoyed this one. Nor could I ever really say I had a "favorite" activity. Until now...

Ooblick ice cubes!

If you don’t know what ooblick is, it’s the cornstarch and water mixture we had in the sensory table for about a week (by the way, it’s good to keep that stuff current because we found out that once it goes bad, it smells worse than rotten milk).

It started out as this project:

(The ice cube trays here just hold colored water for dropping into the cornstarch.)  Kids put the liquid into the cornstarch to explore the properties of the cornstarch.  Of course, by the end they had mixed everything into one big bowl, which is their way of ultimately learning the properties of solubility, viscosity and proportion.   We later transferred the contents of the bowl into the sensory table.

Well, I got curious one day about freezing the ooblick. Would it transform into a chalk that we could use to draw? Could we draw with it? Would we remove it from the ice cube trays, and it would merely crumble into dried cornstarch?

When the ooblick was still in its prime, I glopped it into ice cube trays and squirted some different colored water colors on top. No rhyme or reason, just glopped and squirted. If you don’t know what the verb “glop” is, put some cornstarch and water into ice cube trays. You will then know the experience of “to glop”.

The outcome was amazing. If you haven’t explored ooblick before, you might not be able to appreciate a mere verbal description. But I’ll do my best.

So I lined a shallow water table outside with white sheets of paper so we could draw with the ice cubes. Of course, the paper product became secondary, as it usually does in preschool.

Holding the ooblick was not only visually appealing, seeing the swirling colors stay locked in place when it looked like they should be swirling, but it was an amazing tactile experience. The feeling of cornstarch melting --this must be experienced to be understood--seemed amplified by the fact that the water started out frozen.  It feels dry, yet you know it's not by looking at it.  Ooblick (and frozen) is a paradox to the senses.

Due to the inconsistency between the cornstarch:water proportions,  some cubes had a more grainy texture and were more starchy, while some were harder like dried clay, or icier because of more water density and less cornstarch; some squished in the hand and some melted in that ooblick-o-morphic way that only ooblick can melt.

The kids held the ooblick cubes in a way that was almost intentionally slow, to savor each step in their exploration. They looked quietly at the cubes, speechless, rubbed the cubes between their hands, touched their cheeks to the cubes, and some put it in their mouths (the youngest ones, mostly). They held it in their palms and watched as the cubes became slick, and as they held the cubes, the density seemed to increase, and as they let go, the density loosened and the cubes melt in only the way that saturated cornstarch can.

As the intitial exploration phase wore off, the children could be observed exploring the scientific properties of ooblick in their own unique way. Te rubbed it up and down her forearms in a manner so common in the two year old classroom that we expect most paint projects to become whole-arm experiences. Br held it gently as it melted, paying attention not only to his ice but also to the chitter chatter around him, letting the unique sensation of ooblick accompany the social atmosphere. Ta noticed as it kept getting smaller and smaller, as did Sa, who later joined Gi in an ooblick taste test.  Each of these children absorbed science concepts through sensory experience during this activity.

The puddles of water that formed created a receptacle for the last ooblick cubes standing, the ones that hadn’t already been melted or crumbled into the water puddles.  It was fun to see the last globs of ooblick swoosh around into the water, either dissolving into the water or being swallowed up by the larger cornstarch mass that formed.

The same day that I froze the ooblick, I also froze regular colored ice cubes for some ice cube painting.  Using regular water colored ice cubes a few days later seemed to be less exciting for everyone, but I could have just been projecting my own disappointment after having experienced my new best activity ever.


The bold words are some of the science lingo involved in this activity.  But words like "glob" and "swoosh" tend to be more precise than their scientific parallel.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saying YES more often (or at least not saying NO so often)

I try to say yes as often as I can.

It's not that I don't cringe when I see a small child use scissors or do yoga poses on top of a climbing structure.  I had to learn to back off and appreciate a child's experience as a means of learning.  Children learn a lot by experimentation, testing boundaries and pushing limitations.  As a teacher, I believe our number one job is to facilitate learning.  Sometimes that means setting up the environment, ensuring safety and just watching as the kids take matters into their own hands.  Often it means saying yes when I have a multitude of reasons to say no.

A recent example:  It's late in the afternoon and some of the kids have already gone home.  We have done countless activities for the day and we are all cleaned up and into the homestretch when someone comes over and wants to color.  I could say, "No, we are all cleaned up and going home soon."  But I don't.  I say, "YES."  Next someone asks to use scissors.  Again, I could say, "No, it's not safe." Instead I say, "YES" and I sit down to monitor safety.  A little later someone asks for tape.  Can you see where this is going?

This late afternoon activity turned into a wonderful, child initiated activity of drawing, cutting and taping letters and envelopes.  Not only did the children work on fine motor skills and problem solving.  They increased their abilities and self confidence in using materials that are typically used by (or with the help of) grownups.

Could someone have cut their little finger?  Yes.  Did we waste a ton of tape while they figured out how to manipulate it in a way that it didn't get all stuck together?  Yes.  Could we have done something else to pass the time?  Yes, but I'm so glad we didn't!

It took a lot of retraining my brain to convince myself to yes more often.  I find that when I do the kids are happy and so am I.


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Block Experiment

Julie and I were wondering what would happen if we took the Magna-Tiles out of classroom.  Would the children's innate desire to use their spatial reasoning skills need an outlet, thereby 'forcing' them to find another outlet?

Our theory was that if we took out the Magna-Tiles, the wooden blocks would make a big comeback.

Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic.

Every day since we took out the tiles (that was Tuesday), the kids have asked where they are.  I usually reply with, "We're taking a break from those for now".  Well today I suggested they use the blocks and what ensued was an hour of continuous block usage, with the internalization of mathematical concepts so apparent in their play that I had to document it here.

In the early childhood profession, we tend to really emphasize what children learn through various types of play.  For instance, in their dramatic play (ie. "make believe") they learn how to navigate through real-life scripts, processing information they receive in the world and contenxualizing it for themselves.  They practice social skills in the safety of an imaginary world.  And since they are having fun, the motivation to use and enhance these skills is amplified.  Leslie said it well in a friendly debate the other day that she believes children should be engaged in "purposeful play".

So, about the blocks.  Very purposeful play.

The most impressive part of the block play was the gender balance (well, we only had six kids today but it was still impressive!)

And the beautiful teamwork and conversation and planning seemed to go on and on.  They talked about "missing pieces" and which shape would work and they problem solved and used trial and error to complete their block path.

T was very excited when he realized that who half circles made a whole circle and what directions to put the blocks to complete the shape.  He said, "Look, Stephanie, a circle!".  It was like something he knew and had experienced suddenly made sense differently.

Using materials that offer geometry and equality between pieces and lengths creates pathways in the brain for math conceptualization.  Unit blocks use standard sizes so that two sides of a square is the length of a rectangle, and two right triangles equal one square.  Unit blocks allow children to use all basic arithmatic concepts because they are based on the same unit.  I'm a little frustrated that the diameter of the circle pieces are greater than the length of a square's edge, but they do fit the "bridge" pieces, the rectangular pieces with half the circumference of the circle cut out, making one side concave.  The perimeter of any shape can be enclosed by any other blocks. (Notice how much language we can use to bring math into our conversations?)

So here are some examples of these mathematical concepts at work:

The above photo is a great example...see how he not only organized them into shapes but also expressed an understanding of equal width.

Notice that one rectangle plus two squares equals the length of one long rectangle?  And the diagonal of two right triangles is the same as the diagonal of a square of equal height?

E's corn kernal tower (see the corn kernal?)  This one is about balance and physics.  Here's another view (phase one of this building project):
T pointed out empty space as well (working with negative values):
As he pointed out, "there's nothing there".

We'll bring the Magna-Tiles back out at some point.  It was one of those things we had to try, just to see. 


Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Be Careful"

A post by former Beansprouts teacher Julie.

Sometimes as teachers we find ourselves saying things to children out of habit, or because they are quick and easy responses, like "good job", "oh, really?", and "be careful".  Here are Julie's thoughts on "be careful"...

I have become conflicted by my using the phrase 'be careful' with the kids, and whenever I say it I realize almost immediately after the words come out of my mouth that they do not reflect what I want to convey. I know these words come from a place of concern about a situation where I can foresee an unpredictable outcome, but I also know that the words I use can be very powerful and so being clear is something I strive for when communicating with the kids. Upon reflection, I recognized I need to be specific and not vague. I do not want the kids to have to discover the hidden meaning in my adult words and 'be careful' is alot of nothing! What I need to say is"be aware of other kids around you" or "I want to let you know you are really close to the edge" or "when you kick your leg make sure you have enough space" or "look forward when you ride your bike!



If any of the following images make you want to say "be careful!", I wonder what else we could say instead?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Groups, One Amazing Morning

The "Beanstalks" (the older kids) and the "Sprouts" (the younger kids) spent their first morning apart.  We started out together in the morning, and after an hour or so of focused activity, the Beanstalks went outside to the Bean Patch.

As we came outside, we opened the cabinets in a ceremonial fashion to display shelves of sparkly new works.  We got out rugs to sit on for circle (mats that would also be used as workspace) and had a nice circle to introduce the new works and the "work cycle" (getting a work out, using it, preparing it for the next child, and putting it back on the shelf).  Then the kids got busy! 

At first, they took each work out one by one to have a turn with everything.  Then they started pairing off or grouping into threes and working together or watching how others do the works.  One of the kids pointed out the E was doing the peg work "not right":

So I pointed out that she had found a different and beautiful way of using the pegs (incidentally she had already used it twice in the traditional way).  Notice in the above photo how she is still using math concepts (fractions, breaking up space into segments, length vs. width, and distributive properties of amounts).  T also had a great variation of how to use space:
And he seriated the peg boards by value...I wonder if he did that on purpose?

Anyway, when the brain is ready for spatial reasoning, it finds a way to learn it through the children's play.

They also made rainbow bean pods inspired by our harvested beans.

When they had cycled through the works and the craft activity, we got out the art caddy, and wow, their eyes lit up!  It was like they'd gotten a free pass into the art storage closet!

The creative juices flowing from that table were bountiful and wildly uninhibited.  They each made very individualistic pieces, with unique uses for the materials and art media.


And what were the Sprouts doing during the morning?  Enjoying solitude, choosing their own art activity (pink paint stamping with pipe cleaner stampers!)

enjoying free reign over all of the indoor materials

and doing some Sprouts bonding, which carried out through the day.


The Bean Patch (literally!)

The Bean Patch kids broke in the garden today with an enthusiastic bean harvest.  We found bean pods, plucked them off, and enjoyed the delectable goodies inside the pods.

Later, we did more picking with the whole group (and even parents who came in at pick up).  What better way to bond and come together socially.  And it's amazing how even raw beans can taste so good when they come from your own garden, picked by your own hands.  Also impressive was how willing and eager the kids were to help each other find bean pods to pick and to let others partake of their own harvest.

Monday, August 16, 2010


At the art table...

The children demonstrated their ability to focus for long periods of time as they planned and implemented a myriad of ways to make pirates' telescopes this morning.  The social dialogues, helpfulness among friends, and concentration on the use of fine motor skills illuminated their faculty for cognitive reasoning.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Bean Patch...more progress!

Leslie came in on Friday and did a beautiful job of stocking The Bean Patch work shelves.  The works include math concepts (number pegs, sorting, matching), spatial reasoning (puzzles), science (plant care, magnetic works), fine motor (lacing work), and care of the enviornment (a cleaning station with spray bottles, sponges, rags, cotton balls, and swabs for cleaning small items).

There's also an outdoor art caddy stocked full of supplies.  And when the Bean Patch is closed, so is the classroom: