Google+ bakers and astronauts: 11.11

30 November 2011

29 November 2011

It is time for the EduBlog awards, and nominating blogs means posting them right here, and I'm happy to share who I am nominating!  These are nominations for Best Teacher Blog:

My friend Anna over at atelierista is a constant source of inspiration, and this year's Tinkering focus at her school has me planning a move to Virginia so I can hang out with her everyday!

Marla is another Atelierista who shares children's words and work, as well as her own wisdom as an artist and teacher, at her blog, Marla McLean, Atelierista.

The ever-reflective and inspirational Miss Merrill, at Beyond the Classroom, is a big favorite of mine.  She teaches public Pre-K in New York and shares her ideas, inspirations, and classroom experiences on her excellent blog.

For the category of Best Class Blog, I have nominate the teachers at the Early Learning Center at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan.  I came across their blog recently, and I love reading about the children's work and the reflections of the teachers.

Who are you nominating?  See the instructions on how to nominate right here.

Observational Drawing and Studio Habits

Today, at the Maker's Table, I presented an observational drawing prompt for the first time this year.

When I introduce observational drawing, I like to be able to spend time at the table with the kids, encouraging their work and talking about how they are translating what they see on the paper.  For this first prompt, We used bold colors and simple items, and the only colors available were the ones that were in the items to be drawn.

Luckily this morning, there was another teacher with me, so I was able to spend my time at this table, and many of the children in the room wanted to participate; there was a waiting list on the wall before long.  Some children approached it as an opportunity to draw freely:

And some children looked back and forth between their paper and the prompt as they drew shapes in the colors that they saw.  One child spoke as they drew, saying, "I see red.  Square, square, square."

No one created a picture that carried a true representation of what those pieces looked like in space, but that wasn't the point.  There is something about the introduction of ideas and prompts and materials that is important; and teacher facilitation in an activity like this plays a big role.

I do not tell the children what to draw, but instead I ask, "What do you see?  Can you make that color/shape on the paper?  I see you drew the red one; where do you think the purple can go?"  In this class, the children are still exploring materials independently, especially since they have been so used to more structured activities.  So I sat with small groups today as they came to the table.  No one stayed more than three or four minutes - they felt finished with their work, and that is fine with me.

While I talked the children through the experience of observational drawing and listened to the words and watched their actions, I thought about the importance of a place like a studio.  It seems like there are endless benefits to studio experiences:  children learn about new materials and are in a safe place to explore them; they are able to work at their own pace and at their own level of interest; and there is a person there who is dedicated to facilitating that hard work.  An artist, or atelierista, can promote studio habits of mind, documenting children's progression as they learn about media and how they can express themselves.  In my mind, a studio allows opportunities for all types of work, from drawing and painting and sculpture to construction and woodworking and photography and sound-making - and anything else anyone could imagine.  I've definitely been dreaming about a place like that.

There is no one way to draw a square or hold a paintbrush or eat a sandwich, but we all do things differently.  I think the point is not to show or teach children how, but rather to be there to talk and notice while they work it out for themselves.

I am going to apologize for the quality of my photographs lately - I am using a small video camera that also takes still images this year rather than a DSLR, so thanks for sticking with me!

22 November 2011


I was reading an article for grad school the other day on a pretty basic topic that I don't consciously think about all of the time.  While I was reading it, I was thinking, I know this, and its just ingrained in my teaching - I don't need to make a effort to do this."  There are pieces you read that go much deeper into theory and pedagogy, and you have to have some of those basic "good skills" down in order to be able to take this piece by Tom Drummond, for example.  You can't exactly use the advice put forth there if you are constantly running around, throwing paper up onto the easel on one side of the room and trying to get children to engage with puzzles on the other side of the room while washing the snack dishes for lunch and making sure no one is doing the potty dance.

The point is, organization is what makes everything work - it is what allows us to get deeper into topics and ideas and work with children because we have the time.  Yesterday, something happened that, I felt, was a revelation of an idea.  Many of the younger children in my classroom do not write their name, and I also like to try to get some of their words about their work onto the paper.  That said, I don't write on the front of a child's paper - I think of that as their workspace.  So I write on the back.  But when a child begins telling a narrative rather than a few words about what it "is", I cannot remember all of that for ten the child is done looking at the front of the work so I can draw on the back.  

So, in steps organization to save the day, my time, and my focus.  There are now small mailing labels on sheets tacked to the wall in the maker's area with a pencil on a string next to it.  So if a child begins to paint before I put their name on their painting, no sweat.  I just write their name and their thoughts at the end and stick it on the back.  We're sculpting and keeping the product?  That's cool - I just write their name on a label as they sit down to sculpt and I add their dictation later, then put it right on the parchment paper next to the clay.  No more trying to write on the back of wet paintings; no more searching for a pen that I left on the other side of the room - and a lot less waiting for the children.  That potentially means more time for me engaging with children in other ways.

11 November 2011

Expectations, Power, and Facilitation

I'm noticing some trends in my posts.  I'm clearly thinking about power and engagement.  Those are things that are an umbrella over every moment I have as a teacher.

Last week, I talked about expectations.  We need to suspend those as much as possible.  We can have inklings or guesses or pictures in our heads, but we cannot be frustrated when children approach something differently than we do.  We're adults - we've been in training for decades, and we are creatures of habit.  Just the other day, I had put up the children's names next to a sign up sheet at the easels - we are embedding more name writing into out days, and signing up for popular activities is a way to make those marks.  One girl walked up to the list, dipped the paintbrush into the orange paint, and basically highlighted her name on the list of names that was thee as a reference.  Why not?  She saw her name and painted on it.  And in her mind, it is a valid way to show that she wants to paint.  Her name is literally covered in paint.

As teachers, we can have ultimate power if we want it.  Children also know how to get the power if they want it.  We all have our ways.  I have my agenda, and each child has their own as well.  Who am I to say that mine is better?

You can picture a room where children are doing whatever they want - jumping up and down on tables, painting on the floor - whatever.  The classic image is from Miss Nelson is Missing:

That is one extreme.  The other extreme is children being forced to do things that they are not interested in at all.  But most of what happens is somewhere in the middle - especially when it comes to preschool.  There is no one way for it to look.  I've never had two environments that were set up just the same; I've never dusted off last year's planner and put it all into action again; and I've never expected one group of children to be the same as another one.  Not only would that be boring, but it would make teaching monotonous and repetitive.  

I like that children paint in random places and have different funny names for the baby dolls and a million different stories to dictate.  But I also like the common things that children do on their own, without instruction from me.  Play dough with popsicle sticks always turns into a birthday cake, three-year-olds always draw people like tadpoles, and four-year-olds put more weight on the word "friend" than any other word they know at that point.  Our job is to connect with children and make decisions based on that, with the input of the children.  We can try to make all the decisions as teachers, but it is not going to work.  But we have to facilitate and stay sane.  The better we are at seeing and listening and adjusting and listening some more, the better the experience is for the children.  I am thinking about preschool, but this probably applies to education in general.

I do not claim to be an expert at this - I'm writing about it because it is a challenge.  We need to be able to work with children, not create a free-for-all.  There would be no point in school if kids just ran around.  That middle ground is my ultimate goal.  Children engaged in the things that interest them, and teachers facilitating that work to help build on it and make it deeper and more meaningful.  Some might call it the Project Approach, some might call is Reggio Inspired, some might call it unproductive.  Call it what you wish.  Engagement might be children in a forest Kindergarten, children conducting science experiments, painting planks of wood, or making bread.  All of those things are able to happen because adults facilitate them.  

I'll end this rambling with a quote from The Hundred Languages of Children that describes the curriculum of the early childhood centers in Reggio Emilia: 

 "The curriculum is not child centered or teacher directed.  The curriculum is child originated and teacher framed." - Forman and Fyfe

Everyone in a classroom plays an important role.  And if we're teachers because we want to provide positive experiences for young children, that is exactly what we should do - and we should try to make those positive experiences engaging, explorative, meaningful, and personal.

10 November 2011

A year of inspiration and ideas

Have you been over to the bakers and astronauts tumblr?  You should take a look - it is where I have been posting quick ideas and inspirations for a whole year!

I hope you'll look through some of the things that I have been saving!  From music to art media to articles about education and websites for children, tumblr is a bit of a museum collection for me, and I like to think of myself as the curator.

Do you share your inspirations and ideas somewhere?  tumblr?  pinterest?  Right on your blog?  In a big binder?

09 November 2011

Sketchbook Resources

I thought I'd write a little post about the changing location of AccessArt's sketchbook resources.  The website has been indispensable for me as a teacher, and was really the reason that I started using sketchbooks in the classroom.

I'll change the link on the sidebar, but you can click here and sift through some fantastic ideas about classroom sketchbooks.

There is also a wealth of information on other media that I'm looking forward to reading, also!  Drawing, anyone?

thinking about...

I've written another post on the Turtlewings blog - this month we're thinking about images.  Won't you have a look?

And please join the conversation that began yesterday about how we support children in dramatic play.

08 November 2011

Productivity v. Chaos

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this topic before, but it is something I struggle with as a teacher.  Although I feel like I have learned quite a bit about teaching, there are days when I feel that I don't know anything.

The photo above was taken in the middle of choice time on Monday.  I have had some challenges with this particular group of children and engagement - it was a much bigger challenge three months ago.  But between how the classroom environment is set up, what materials and prompts are presented, and how those materials and prompts are presented, I find that children are getting into their work.  And the work that so many of them love is dramatic play.

I have written about dramatic play before, and I hope that we can have a conversation about it here.  I am proponent of open-ended materials for children - I want them to make their own decisions about what they want to work on.  I stopped setting up stores and post offices and doctor's offices in the dramatic play area years ago, and I have tried putting in open-ended materials : scarves, shells, rocks, squares of fabric, chairs and tables - I have made many attempts.  Nothing has been the picture of success that I imagined as I presented the materials.  More often than not, small items are put into bags or wrapped in fabric and carried around the room; unifix cubes become pet food and legos are poured into a construction helmet and become soup.  It is very imaginative, but it ends within 3 minutes for something that draws the children in more.

My desire to support the children in my classroom as they explore the world through dramatic play is a double edged sword.  Do I tell them what to play by providing an exact "play environment"?  I know they are playing and exploring using open-ended materials, but I feel that I can support them better.  My struggle right now is to find the middle ground between teacher-chosen prompts and open-ended materials that children are not drawn to as imaginative props.

Do you set up dramatic play for children?  If you do, is it a topic that the children have seemed interested in?  If not, how do you engage the children in the play?

04 November 2011

Weekend Links

Gorgeous, inspirational documentation from Marla McLean : nothing gets to me more than passionate teachers collaborating to facilitate meaningful work.

I love Merril's blog, and she's talking about sketchbooks.  We're talking about it here, too - take a look back in the archives for some sketchbook inspiration.

I have found myself in a classroom full of these IKEA shelves, for some reason, and I love this idea of making one of them into a dollhouse.  Brilliant!  And in my experience, dollhouses are always an engaging prompt for imaginative play. (via pinterest)

Soundtracks for Everyday Adventures, the new album from Lullatone, is looping constantly in the classroom.  Pick it up! 

I'm thinking about images with the children this month, and I'll be sharing on the Turtlewings blog.  Jules is already posting about images from a different perspective.

I'm following a blog written by teachers in an international school in Japan.  The program is Reggio Emilia inspired, and I love the thoughtful posts from the teachers on the children's work, and their work in turn.  It's a bit dear to my heart because of my own experiences teaching internationally, but it is a great read for anyone who loves a good early childhood blog.

Happy Weekend!

02 November 2011

a few things of late

I haven't been posting much, but I thought I would share some images from the classroom last week to bide the time!  The last picture is one of my favorite recent discoveries : paint mixing on a big piece of butcher paper, then drawing on the painting with sharpies.

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