Google+ bakers and astronauts: 11.08

28 November 2008

What's Happening

I apologize for my absence from here, especially when our project is so exciting! The kids are currently transforming the classroom into two forests -- a daytime forest, and a nighttime forest. We have two more weeks before the winter break, and we will be celebrating our project in the last days before we have three weeks of no school.

I plan on sharing so much with you during the break! There have been amazing things happening.

Oh, and the drawing above was made by a student of mine a few weeks ago; it is "a princess surrounded by monsters". I love her representation of monsters.

25 November 2008

The Old Animals' Forest Band

We went to the Netherlands for the weekend, and made a stop at the Kröller-Müller Museum, which is located in the National Park the Hoge Veluwe. There was 5 cm of snow, a fantastic collection of Dutch art, and, in the gift shop, a picture book I have been looking for for a few months now.

The Old Animals' Forest Band has gorgeous Indian tribal drawings and a lovely telling of a classic tale from The Brothers Grimm. I'm so happy to have a copy!

Initially seen over at Book By Its Cover

20 November 2008


Google is now hosting the LIFE photo archive and it is absolutely amazing.

I could spend hours and hours looking through all of the beautiful moments.

18 November 2008

What do we know?

On Tuesday we answered the question: what do we know about bats and birds, and how are they alike and different?

We used a venn diagram to chart the information.

  • Sleep during the day
  • Come out at night
  • Live in bat houses
  • When they sleep, they close their wings
  • They sleep upside down
  • They hang on branches
  • They eat fruit and bugs
  • They use sound because they can't see.
  • Owls come out at night
  • Live in birdhouses
  • Owls eat mice
  • Birds eat worms
Things that are alike:

  • They fly with their wings open
  • They have a little door on their house
  • They live in the forest
There is information that is not always true; and that is all going to be part of our future investigations in finding out more about these creatures that live in the forest. In the forest property owned by the school, people put up birdhouses a few years back. An outdoor education teacher walked with us in the forest last week, and there are few, if any, that are used by birds. As nice as the thought is, if they are in a true forest, they will nest naturally. The bat houses, however, are used. These bats are endangered in Brussels, and it is a move to protect them.

One of the most interesting items (to me) was one girl showing the difference in birds and bats when their wings are down. She said, "bats go like this", and she wrapped her arms around the front of her body; and then she said, "and birds go like this", and she put her arms straight down at her sides.

Yes. This is working.

17 November 2008


My husband listened to this last week and described it to me; I finally had the opportunity to listen last night. This American Life is a fantastic program from Chicago Public Radio that is a slight addiction for me, and the streaming archives have allowed for hours of entertainment, despite the fact that I am not currently living my American America.

Listen to this episode about a man from Harlem who works with parents to change the way families receive assistance in parenting -- introducing new techniques to a community that is plagued by repeated histories.

Then make a pot of tea and listen to a few more, and a few more, and a few more...

Light Table


16 November 2008

Dramatic Play

First, the Turtlewings meeting was wonderful. I met Julianne, who runs the organization, and her husband Peter. I'm looking forward to working with them -- we're talking about doing something with the preschool where I work starting in the spring; and my plan is to keep on attending the monthly Turtlewings meetings.

Now, dramatic play. As a university student, I learned that dramatic play is a center in the early childhood classroom that many people refer to as "dress up". There is also a wide tendency to call it the "kitchen area", I have noticed, most likely because it is typically equipped with child-sized cooking appliances. This, this, and this have all been in past classrooms of mine, and in most preschool classrooms.

I was at a workshop hosted by the University Child Development School in Seattle last spring, and Lella Gandini (from Reggio Emilia) was there, speaking about classroom environments. She said that when she and some other Italian educators first visited the United States, they wondered if everyone got their furniture and supplies from the same place, because all of the classrooms were exactly the same. Everyone in the room chuckled, out of truth and guilt.

What people need to see is that those do not authentically reflect a child's home, life, or interests. They are toys. They are not open-ended. They leave no room for creativity.

And even if you are trying to make your dramatic play area a place where children can go more in depth on a project, and it should be a kitchen, yellow plastic pots and fake stove burners are not going to inspire the children. Dramatic play should allow children to be open-ended and self motivated; and is should reflect their own lives and interests. If it is going to be a kitchen, try to fill it with containers that children would see in their own pantry at home; or with real dishes to prepare a table with.

In my first year of teaching, we would change the dramatic play area according to childrens' interests and the project or topic of study. In my recollection, it was four things over the course of the year: a kitchen, a store, a doctor's office, and a restaurant. The children were engaged in each one, but it was always a magical room transformation for them -- they would arrive on a Monday morning to new props, items, and furniture arrangement. Should children have more of a say in the arrangement of their classroom environment? I think dramatic play may be a good place to try that out.

Our dramatic play area has had one transformation already -- from a tiny area of just a coat rack and a table to a larger place for children to play. On Friday, five "kitties"and one "Mommy cat" were the center of dramatic play action. The area is open-ended, in my opinion -- there are chairs, mirrors, scarves, natural items, our fabulous painted tree stump, animal masks, and small materials like buttons, leaves, straws, paper, and pencils. These things can come and go as well -- nothing has to be permanent. But a child who wants to play as a fox does not have to be discouraged because there is just a toy kitchen -- each child can make it what they want it to be right now.

With "dress up clothes", I again am not one to close off possiblities. And, not to hack on Lakeshore, but these are plastic and polyester play costumes. I would much rather give children the opportunity to use their imaginations -- that is why we use scarves in our classroom. A nice addition, though, would be different kinds of materials, in a variety of sizes, that children can spread and fold and experiment with, or wrap around their heads, waists, feet, or whatever they are inspired to do.

Dramatic play is very popular in our classroom, and I think I will take that opportunity to allow the children to help plan how it should evolve. Our recent conversations about bats, birds, and mud can be our jumping off point.

It is not (and will not be) a carbon copy of someone else's idea for dramatic play. I have gotten many great ideas from other teachers and implemented a version in my classroom, but we're not going to make microphones out of toilet paper tubes unless the children collaborate on/ think of the idea.

So look in the corner of your classroom and ask yourself: is it dramatic play? Or is it dress up?

10 November 2008


This is my planning map from about one month ago. There are many more relevant things that can be added, I am sure, but these are things I have planned for so far. We seem to be zooming towards the "bird"section; children seem to talk most about that, and we began this week on that topic.

Planning maps are encouraged in both Emergent Curriculum and The Project Approach; they are also a nice thing for a teacher to lean on, as following children's interests can really seem overwhelming and chaotic at times. About one month ago, I had taken the students out into the forest to draw once, and we watched a slideshow of photographs from a forest walk once while we did watercolor paintings on the topic. But the children were not bringing up the topic independently and spontaneously in their play, so I was frustrated. Why wasn't the project working?

For one, I had not talked with them about beginning the project, so they had not had the chance to give me their input. We began that last week. Now we all know that we are starting a study of the forest that is literally outside of our classroom window, and we have a lot to talk about as it has transformed so much since our first visit in September.

Tomorrow, we are spending our whole day in the forest, in the Scandinavian waldkindergarten fashion. Another teacher at the school is taking us through the forest to look at the bat houses and bird houses that were installed and are maintained by some older students. We'll do some observational drawings, eat a picnic snack, have an outdoor storytime, and play at the secret playground.

What are your children interested in? Are you using their interests as a focus?

Early Childhood Research and Practice

I make regular visits to the Early Childhood Research & Practice website, waiting for new volumes. They only publish twice yearly, so it was a big treat to see that the Fall 2008 issue had emerged.

I am not sure why, but I have not mentioned that there was a day in September when eleven out of the twenty children in my classroom were in the dramatic play area. One corner of the room was transformed into a buzz of action that included princesses, babies, daddies, puppies, superheroes, and big sisters. I have never had a class that was so attracted to dramatic play! Even now, each day, the area is being used. It is full of open-ended materials that I am always reconsidering.

The new volume of ECRP has three articles on supporting dramatic play, including one on puppets in a special education classroom, and one about a child-based transformation of a dramatic play area into a zoo. Although the programs mentioned differ quite a bit from my own, I think there are some good points and ideas for pretend play.

06 November 2008


I love when things in your life connect in a way that you know something was meant to be.

A while ago, I was browsing at Urban Preschool and read about Turtlewings. I thought it was interesting and bookmarked it. Later, I was offered (and I accepted) a job in Brussels, but I did not make the mental connection that I knew of this creative program in Brussels. This afternoon, I was browsing through my bookmarks, and I ended up on the Turtlewings website. I finally realized that I was in the same city as this program; and after finding their location, I realized I'm just a few blocks away.

But the icing on the cake came when, at the very end of the day, the librarian for the Early Childhood Center sent the faculty an email noting that he is going to the Turtlewings November common meeting, because he is the librarian for Turtlewings, and perhaps some others would like to go along.

Um, yes, please.

I am really looking forward to meeting these people! I feel like it will be an inspiring evening.

04 November 2008

Embarking (for real)

We took one day to recover from our vacation and get back into school mode, but this morning we began our day by saying we are getting ready to study the forest, and we talked about what we already know about the forest.
  • There's trains.
  • Mountain goats live in the forest sometimes.
  • There are bikes in the forest.
  • There are leaves falling down the trees.
  • Red leaves.
  • There is nuts.
  • There is trees.
  • There's mud in the forest.
  • The trees have lots of leaves.
  • The little house at the trees.
  • The birdhouses - birds live in them.
We have the unique situation of our campus backing up against the Sonian Forest, with trailheads that lead us in. Train tracks run through the forest, and we often see older students mountain biking along the same path that we walk along. There are also many man-made birdhouses, which the children often talk about on our walks.

So here we go. I hope that writing about this project and sharing it with you will help in our success. I have yet to aide children in a successful project; I feel more confident this time, though. We have so many hands on opportunities - all of the resources we need really are at our fingertips.

Happy (and hopeful) election day to you all.
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