Google+ bakers and astronauts: 01.12

31 January 2012

Drawing on Mirrors Again

This post needs few words: Mirrors, dry-erase markers, and some towels for erasing make for a very engaging morning.

30 January 2012

Introducing Dialogue Number One

If you follow Bakers and Astronauts on Facebook, you've probably seen the rumblings of some conversation about an article discussion group.  There seemed to be some interest when I first proposed the idea, and now we are ready to give it a whirl!  I thought it would be more fitting to call it a dialogue, though, because I hope that it allows for more than surface discussion.

For our first dialogue, we will be learning about documentation.  There was some interest in learning more about how to document everyday, how to fit it into a routine, and how to learn more about it in general.  Many of us want a better understanding of what documentation is and how it might fit into our practices.

We will begin by talking about how it fits into our settings, what it means to us, and what we want it to look like or feel like as we learn more.  What do we want to do differently?  What resources do we need?  Why are we documenting at all?

We will se varied sources to learn more, from journal articles to blog posts and photographs.  These resources will add to our understanding of what documentation is, and how is about more than Reggio Emilia style planels.  Our needs are diverse, our families are diverse, and our resources are diverse.  How can we make it work for each of us?

It is important to share that this dialogue is not about everyone being on the same page with pedagogy or philosophy, but instead, it is about broad topics that we can discuss and help each other and ourselves.  Reflecting on what we are doing now and envisioning new ideas for the future is best done in a group, and I hope this will turn into a place where we can support each other in that process.

I hope that you'll join in!  There are no specific assignments, but there will be readings available and an ongoing discussion board.  We will also be having a group web conference so we can see each other and chat in real time towards the end of the month.

We will be using Wiggio as our platform for the group, and you can use this link to join in.  If you're having trouble, please email me at  The articles and links to our reading will be up on Wednesday!

26 January 2012

Making a Decision

I have never really been one for themes in the classroom.  When I started my career as a teacher, I went though a time when dramatic play would be transformed by a teacher into a post office or a doctor's office or a store, with props to match.

I have not shared much about my Action Research project that I am working on this semester.  It is taking a lot of my energy, but it is definitely a positive thing.  I am focusing on Children's imaginative play for my project, so I have been spending a lot of time watching children engaged in imaginative play, and the easiest place to see and capture that is in the dramatic play area.  I gather videos and notes each Tuesday and Thursday as I watch children play, and for the first two weeks of this data collection, dramatic play had costumes; plates, cups, and spoons; fabric, and two giant boxes.  The boxes were open ended, and they were everything from jails to houses and caves and stores.  One thing I noticed was that watching that play was like watching a pinball: themes and ideas and roles changed constantly.  Children often revisited the same ideas and concepts, but each idea would have about 3 minutes before switching.

This is not necessarily negative.  This is how they want to play, in a way: they want to try out different things, places, roles, ideas, and more.  That is why I love imaginative play, and I want to promote it constantly in the classroom.

That said, I have been getting more and more curious as I have been watching more imaginative play than average.  Could I help them stick with an idea and get deeper into it?  So many teachers chose a dramatic play theme, and I was curious to try and create a focus in dramatic play without giving something too definite.  I think that if there seems to be just one thing to pretend in dramatic play, some children are bound to never try it out.

The children often play out home themes, with Mommies and babies and bad guys and eating dinner and changing diapers - a big mish-mash of all the ideas and themes that are salient to them.  So, without making a permanent decision like purchasing something, I made a play kitchen out of one of the many IKEA Expedit Shelving units we have in the classroom.

It was all the rage when on Wednesday, the day it was first in the classroom.  Children immediately started pretending to cook, and after a while they were serving it at the table in the dramatic play area. Halfway though the morning, two boys announced that it was their store, and it was open - and it turned into a restaurant, with orders being taken, prepared, and brought to the table.  One of the boys who opened this restaurant has only engaged in dramatic play pretending to be either a tiger or an elk, so we're starting to expand our horizons.

I have to remember not to be afraid to suggest things to children.  I cannot assume that they will just spend all their time pretending to cook and eat: I have seen them be creative and unexpected, and they will likely surprise me, even with a pretend kitchen.

On another note, I now see the potential of these shelves: I'll let you know what we turn it into next!

25 January 2012


I went on a little Goodwill shopping binge last night and spent $20.  That is a lot of stuff for the classroom!  Most of the $20 was spent on pots and pans for dramatic play (which I'll share more about soon), but I also spent 99 cents on something that proved to be engaging in a different way.

We have a large white board in our classroom - it used to be an elementary school classroom.  We have scribbled with marker and played with some random magnets on it, but this 99 cent "Monkey Puzzle" that I purchased drew children to the whiteboard.  Magnets were shifted constantly; no one was possessive about their creation after they left it, making this natural flow of work throughout the morning.  I would have loved to see a time lapse of the changes on the board - perhaps that will be for another day.  

How do we know what is going to be engaging for children?  What can I learn from this experience today?  How will the children feel about the magnets tomorrow, next week, in a month?

20 January 2012

Introducing the Overhead Projector

I can hardly explain the magic of bringing an overhead projector into a classroom for the first time.  I rescued it from a storage room down the hall, where it was dusty and unloved, and brought it into the classroom on Tuesday.  We have been using the same tray of materials all week as we learn about what it can do.  I spend a lot of time point out what I see and what I notice about what the children are putting onto the projector and how that manifests on the wall.

This group of children has been chatty at the projector, working in pairs to put the objects on, sweep them off, and start over.  Watching the evolution of the process this week has been interesting: at the start, they dumped and swept off, or just dumped and walked away.  At the end of the week, they are making up stories, chatting about the objects and the shapes, and starting to get up to use their own bodies to make shadows.

An unexpected moment this week came on Wednesday, when the attention of the pair was focused on the objects on the projector itself.  Children often look at the projector as a box rather than at the wall; but here, the illuminated objects had their own fascination.  

The child doing the hiding in this video is the same one I showed once before, hiding toys under cups and mixing them up, then asking others to find the object.

The projector will be a staple in our classroom as we continue getting to know this space.  What objects will we try next week?

Happy Weekend!

13 January 2012

Weekend Links

Industrial and Toy Designer Cas Holman has created this incredible kit of movable parts for High Line Children's Workyard (a public park on the unused elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan).

The website says patent pending, so hopefully this can become a reality in more places than just this park - I can see these being an asset for many outdoor classrooms.  (via playscapes)

I love this flickr stream of photos taken by a fifteen month old.  I have yet to break out the cameras in my current setting because we don't have the means to print proof sheets or reflect on the pictures except right in the camera, but that shouldn't deter me, right?  Because photos like this are totally priceless:

Process not product, right?  Its all about learning how to use the medium - and we learn a lot about what interests children at the same time.

For something a bit more "serious", we are talking about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in my coursework right now, and I'm pretty fascinated.  Its all about looking ahead, seeing things from different perspectives and planning for success while understanding that every person has their own needs and learning style.  There is  a wealth of information on the website of the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.  I'm just getting to know the ideas surrounding the theory of UDL, but I'm interested to keep learning more about it.  Do you have any experience with UDL?

Happy Weekend!

12 January 2012

Homemade Watercolors

I have seen a few things here and there about homemade watercolors, and the time came this week to make some - we were desperate for them in the classroom!  I made them at home from a "recipe" that I found on Whole Living.

I had bookmarked the watercolors from One Golden Apple about a year ago, and I still plan to make those ones.  Those are a bit different, using Fantastix (which are sitting in my amazon cart right now), and we'll be trying those soon.  We'll probably use the ice cube tray again, putting a bit of color from a tube into each part of the tray.

Anyway, I made the paints at home and let them set overnight, and then the children used them the next day.  I was almost giddy when I saw the results!

The paints create vivid colors that drew the children in, some of them remaining to paint page after page .  One thing I have noticed with children and watercolors, especially twos and threes, is that they sometimes get caught up in the water aspect, ignoring or using a minimal amount of paint, and they disengage from their painting because they don't see anything on the paper.  With these paints, I showed them to the children at our morning meeting, making a few marks on the paper myself and modeling how I put paint on the bristles by swiping the brush back and forth a few times.  the texture of the paint deep in the pods is almost magic muck-like, acting like a solid until it is penetrated, and then allowing a paintbrush to dig in deep.  As the morning went on, more and more paintings had a bit of a grit to them, adding a bit of texture.

Overall, I love these paints, and I hope that you'll try them out, too, and let me know how it goes for you!  you can get the recipe over at Whole Living.  With small groups of children or classrooms with extra adult hands to work with a small group, I would definitely recommend making these paints with children, perhaps making them in egg cartons so that children can have their own set to take home.  

11 January 2012

Playing Golf

For ten minutes yesterday, the classroom was a small golf course, complete with instructors. Perhaps the box will become a golf cart.

10 January 2012

How to Tell Stories to Children

I got a very thoughtful gift from my Grandmother this holiday, and I'm excited to share a few photos and quotes.  This book is called How to Tell Stories to Children, and it was published in 1905.  The book belonged to a relative of mine 100 years ago.

I am an avid reader outside of teaching, and I loved looking through this book.  As I read about the writer's personal philosophies about storytelling and thought about why she thought it was so important, her justifications were not too different from what I, or others, see as the reasoning behind using storytelling as a tool in the classroom.

"...storytelling is first of all an art of entertainment; like the stage, its immediate purpose is the pleasure of the hearer,  -- his pleasure, not his instruction, first."

The book is mainly focused on the art of oral storytelling.  So many of us encourage children to tell us stories - to dictate stories, to write their own stories - but I know that in my case, the stories that I tell are usually in picture books.  There are often anecdotes and small stories, but not planned in a way for an audience.  I put a lot of energy into reading picture books and engaging children through those, but I have not attempted the oral story.  I have seen children's engagement with stories on tape during rest times, so I'm not sure why I have not considered modeling storytelling and bringing it into the classroom as a more respected art, and as a larger part of the curriculum.  One quote in particular has me thinking about storytelling as an art:

"A story is essentially and primarily a work of art, and its chief function must be sought in the line of the uses of art.  Just as the drama is capable of secondary ses, yet fails abjectly to realize its purpose when those are substituted for its real significance as a work of art, so does the story lend itself to subsidiary purposes, but claims first and most strongly to be recognized in its real significance as a work of art.  Since the drama deals with life in all its part, it can exemplify sociological theory, it can illustrate economic principle, it can even picture politics; but the drama which does these things only, has no breath of its real life in its being, and dies when the wind of popular tendency veers from it direction."

The "classics" that we know any group of children will love might be different for each of us as teachers or parents of just people who love books, but the same underlying reasons define why children like and love them year after year and want to read and reread them.  There are universal and timeless messages in those stories, and themes that children crave.  Sara Cone Bryant (the author of the book) shares that "no one can think of a child and a story without thinking of a fairy tale."  They are the perfect stories (for reasons we can delve into another day!)

The stories that I hear children tell in the classroom are not so different from fairy tales.  Even if they are about the car ride to school or a movie they saw, they are important to the children, and contain themes and ideas that are important to every children who is listening to me read a dictation or to a child reading a book they have written.  Sometimes it is more about trying literature on for size, sometimes it is about trying characters out or working though anger.  We know what children's faces look like when they are engaged, and there is no time of the day with as much full group engagement as when there is an excellent story being shared by an adult or a child.

I'm thinking a lot about the role that storytelling and imagination plays in the classroom.  Not just mine - I think there is something universal about it.

"The message of the story i the message of beauty, as effective as that message in marble or paint.  Its part in the economy of life is to give joy.  And the purpose and working of the joy is found in that quickening of the spirit which answers every perception of the truly beautiful in the arts of man.  To give joy; in and though the joy to stir and feed the life of the spirit: is this not the legitimate function of the story in education?"

09 January 2012


These are some images from the end of last week - I put two large cardboard boxes in the classroom, and there was action around them for 90 minutes.  Some children came and went, but others stayed with the boxes for extended periods.  The play was about jail, mommies, babies, tigers, cats, amusement parks, and much more that I probably did not catch.

Today, at the start of the week, small groups were using the box as a location for playing with materials from the classroom - for example, two children spent about 35 minutes building with Magna-Tiles in the box.

Tomorrow, I am moving the box to where more of the dramatic play items are, and I'm interested to see if there is a shift in how children use it, and what for.  I have been watching carefully and I have loved to hear the children talk about their plans and see how the box transforms throughout the day, depending on moods and keywords overheard and growling prompts.  Totally fascinating!

06 January 2012

Weekend Links

I somehow ended up on this page from the University of Vermont, watching/listening to a video of Barbara Burrington talking about documentation.  I have been pitying myself for a general lack of resources at my current center, and things like this help center me again: we need to remember why we teach and how we can best support children, despite the details.   [The video is about halfway down the page.]

The New York Times announced the sad passing of Simms Taback, a Caldecott winning illustrator who wrote and illustrated books that are loved by many children and teachers, myself included.  If you're not familiar with his work, take a little trip down to your library this weekend and see for yourself.  You can also sit back and enjoy Cyndi Lauper's undeniably excellent narration of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.

Teach Preschool shared a guest post about making a light box, and the plans are affordable and doable. I am envisioning having a few small light tables in the room for different purposes: tracing, exploring colors, exploring materials...

Lastly, I've been thinking about wire, and there was a post on the subject this week at PreK+K Sharing.  I have yet to use wire (besides pipe cleaners) with children, and I'm inspired by the words and photos in that post.

Next week, I'll be sharing more about boxes as we continue to explore them in the classroom, and I'll also be over on the Turtlewings blog, sharing about light.

Happy Weekend!

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