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Hundertwasser Style Trees – Year 2

Over the last few weeks we have been learning about patterns, shape and area in maths and in art we have been exploring cool and warm colours so naturally we combined all this learning to create Hundertwasser style trees. We started by creating the warm and cool colour pages using acrylic paint A3 paper and a variety of sponges and brushes. We drew on the wet paint with matchsticks and the pointy end of the brushes and we drew with felt pens on the paper when it was dry.

Next the children chose one piece to be the background and the other was used for the trees. They drew and cut out circles which they glued onto the background in layers (area) to create the trees. Then they cut strips of paper to create the tree trunks. The trees and layers were then outlined to make them “pop”.

Here are a few examples.

IMG_0163 IMG_0162 IMG_0161 IMG_0160 IMG_0159















































I love how they embraced the style of Hundertwasser and made it their own.

Prep…… Preparation for what? Part 2

Here is the next installment of the discussion paper I recently presented on the topic Prep….. preparation for what?


In Preptopia we were preparing them not just for school but for life and this is one answer to tonight’s question. We are preparing them for life and instilling in them a love of learning.

Balancing out all of this play are the 4 other contexts for learning and balance is the key word here.


and where the answers to the questions about literacy and numeracy learning can be more clearly observed.

In these contexts children are participating in carefully planned and developmentally appropriate experiences that help them to build upon their current skills and knowledge and develop mastery. The teaching and learning in these contexts and in particular Focussed Teaching and Learning is more explicit and direct.

Another strength of Preptopia is giving the children a voice and agency and an example of how powerful this voice can be is when I ask my Preppies at the start of every year what they would like to learn in Prep and every year almost 90% of them say “learn to read”. It’s what they think coming to school is all about and who am I to say no?  As an avid reader myself, I always get excited about sharing my love of reading with them and by listening to their voice and acting upon it by helping them to make the connections between what they already know about reading and the many literacy skills they bring to Prep, I am empowering them to perceive themselves as readers right from their very first day .

I teach them that learning to read is more than just decoding words on a page.  I teach them that reading requires lots of other skills as well. Skills such as –


And knowing


By connecting their prior knowledge about reading to this new learning they become active participants in the development of their literacy skills.

When children go to Year 1, play as a context for learning is rarely implemented and this is why the other 4 contexts for learning in Prep, especially focussed learning and teaching are so important. It is through these contexts that children are learning and developing many of the “learning to learn skills” that they will need for the more formal learning of Year 1. Skills such as


Often these skills need explicit teaching and practice through modelling and role play in whole and small group situations but once taught and understood many, especially the social and emotional skills can be reinforced and applied independently in the more social and less structured play situations. So here is the second answer to tonight’s question. Prep is preparation for the more formal learning contexts of Year1.

Remember earlier I said we were also gently transitioning them into the school environment. This means teaching them school survival skills. What the bells mean and what to do when they ring. Teaching them where to find the library and the tuckshop and how they operate. It’s learning how to sit still and listen, not just in the classroom but also at assembly and other school gatherings and most important of all, surviving the playground. School survival is also about asking for help when you need it and what to do when things become all too much because when your 4 or 5 (or 65), school can sometimes feel overwhelming and you need to know how to find someone or somewhere that gives you time and space and provides support and encouragement so you can regroup and gather yourself, ready for what comes next.

Now that I have identified some of the skills and attitudes that Prep prepares our children for, along with some of the strengths and ideals of Preptopia, let’s look at some of the challenges we face.

The balance between play and focussed teaching and learning has shifted over the last few years and, as I said earlier, play has almost, if not totally, disappeared from many Prep classrooms with 1 teacher in a discussion group asking “does anyone play anymore?” The question seemed like a cry from the wilderness and made my heart sink.  Preptopia seemed to be moving further and further away from our children.

So, knowing all that we do about play, the question we need to ask ourselves is…. why. Why has this shift in balance occurred? Why has play been replaced with even more focussed teaching and learning ie. literacy and numeracy blocks? Has the purpose of Prep changed? Or are there other factors at play here?

One of the biggest changes to education in Australia has been the introduction of a national curriculum. The development of the Australian Curriculum was guided by The 2008 Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians which commits


Sound familiar? Successful learners. Confident and creative individuals. Active and informed citizens. Aren’t these the qualities of the children of Preptopia? Yet interestingly the Australian Curriculum has taken a content approach. It is a curriculum framework that outlines subject content, time requirements, assessment and reporting procedures. What it doesn’t tell us is how to teach. Its outcomes for Prep or as it is called in the document, the Foundation year, appear at first somewhat daunting, and many of us stood back and went Whoa! Hang on! How can our children possibly reach these literacy and numeracy standards?


It all seemed too much! What was going to happen to our children and their childhood? Aren’t we pushing them too soon and too quickly into learning they were not developmentally ready for?  And yet, other states in Australia are already achieving and even surpassing these standards. Could we learn something from them? Could their more formal classrooms with their literacy and numeracy blocks be best practice after all? Were their Prep classes preparing them better than ours and if so for what? Dare I say it? Better literacy and numeracy scores? Could we continue to play and still achieve these standards?


I think the answer to these questions lies in our rhetoric about how we view children. I think we have been underestimating just how competent and capable they truly are, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy. Our balance between play and focussed teaching and learning may have been right but when it comes to focussing on the explicit teaching of literacy and numeracy we were out of balance and not challenging them enough when it came to actual content in our classrooms. Something the Australian Curriculum addresses.

In the next post I will share the challenges facing Preptopia in Prep…. preparation for what?

Prep……. preparation for what?

I recently had the honour of participating in my alumni’s annual Jean Ferguson Memorial Lecture on the topic of Prep….. preparation for what? The format for the lecture involved a panel discussion with each panelist speaking for 12 minutes. I was disappointed in my contribution for a variety of reasons but mainly because, as usual, I had a lot to say and found it difficult to edit my discussion down to the time allocated.

So over the next few days, I will post my full and unedited discussion paper to share with those who are interested.  My research was wide and varied and at times I was unable to verify the original source. *My apologies to the people concerned and please let me know so I can recognise you appropriately.

Prep…….. preparation for what?

I love to have fun and I love to read, and whilst preparing for tonight I have spent a lot of time reading and researching on the internet as well as having fun, drinking coffee and talking about tonight’s topic Prep……. preparation for what? with friends and colleagues.

The great philosopher Dr. Suess wrote –


Now reading, particularly on the internet can lead you to all sorts of places. You know how it is, you read one article or piece of research and it leads you to another and then another, and then another and some of the current research I was reading was very confronting particularly when I linked it back to what is currently happening, not just in Prep but in many schools and classrooms around Australia.

Now after doing all this reading and then, writing and shaping my talk, my laptop crashed and I lost almost everything, which at the time seemed like the absolute worst thing that could have happened but upon reflection it was probably the best thing that could have happened because I did even more reading and so tonight’s talk is quite different to the original. The reason for that being is, in the original one I was, as I said before, shaping my talk and using research that matched my own and probably most people’s beliefs here in the room and I was ignoring the elephants. Elephants you’re all thinking. What elephants? I’m talking about the big things in a room that people don’t want to talk about. Those elephants!

So let’s get started. Firstly I’d just like to say that just like many of you I am passionate about play and in particular playing in prep so I feel like I’m talking to the converted but with the introduction of the Australian Curriculum and in particular the C2C this year, play as a context for learning has for many prep teachers and their children almost disappeared from their classrooms and I think why this has happened is the reason tonight’s topic is such an important question to raise. What exactly are we preparing our children for?

When prep was first introduced I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to work with children 5 days a week, with time for continuity of learning, allowing children to fully explore and investigate their ideas and interests through creative and inquiry based play whilst also gently transitioning them into the school environment. We had time to develop their learning to learn skills, teach them social skills and encourage their emotional development so that they were ready for the more formal environment of Year one.

The children felt empowered and were intrinsically motivated to learn because they were actively involved in planning their learning. They were viewed and more importantly, viewed themselves, as competent and capable learners. It was like we were in Preptopia. A place that was safe and supportive, where it was OK to make a mistake and try again, where children learnt to communicate and work together, where being an individual as well as a member of a group is valued, where teaching and learning involved shared conversations, collaboration and decision making and there were strong partnerships between all stakeholders. Preptopia was a place that valued children and their childhood and backing up Preptopia’s culture was the Early Years Curriculum Guidelines (EYCG). A document informed by theorists such as my good old friend Piaget who I first met long ago in my BKTC days and Vygotsky with his constructivist approach to learning. Written for Education Qld. this was, and still is an inspiring document. It recognised, validated and more importantly placed into government policy, the importance of play as a context for learning in the early years.

Rather than a content approach, it’s philosophical and pedagogical approach to learning allayed the fears of many that  prep would be too prescriptive and have a one size fits all approach. The EYCG meant that anything and everything was possible and again, in the words of that great philosopher Dr Suess –


That is exactly what we did. We aimed for the sky and flew as high as we could go. We explored the galaxy whilst delivering underpants to aliens, sailed the oceans as pirates and learnt about what true treasure can be,  performed in our own circus, designed and created our own fashion parade and last year I was fortunate enough to preside over a wedding in our prep castle, 4 knights in shining armour married 4 brides dressed in designer plastic bag dresses with everyone in the class having a role to play in both the preparations and the wedding itself. We have also chased Gingerbread men all over the school, enrolled in Hogwarts to learn magic spells and play Prep Quiddich, investigated and designed racing tracks and cars, built dinosaur museums and art galleries following real life experiences and all whilst covering the 15 learning statements.

The list of our adventures goes on and on but what are they actually learning? Where is the proof that this is no more than just a bit of fun! How can playing pirates, building castles, having weddings, putting on a circus be educational? How can this be preparing our young children for anything? Shouldn’t they be learning to read and write? What about numeracy?

These are questions that prep teachers are asked all the time and the simple and I stress the word simple, answer is this……. we are instilling in them a love of learning.


We are teaching them skills that they will use their whole life. Yes we are teaching them literacy and numeracy skills but they are woven throughout the play and are being taught in a way that is meaningful and engaging to the children.

We are encouraging them to be creative and imaginative, qualities essential to problem solving and valued by many of the greatest thinkers of all time including Albert Einstein who said


And of course there is also Sir Ken Robinson who goes even further and states


I think they both would probably approve of Preptopia.

In 1988 Robert Fulgram wrote a short essay called All I Really Need to Know I Learnt in Kindergarten. He wrote that “wisdom was not learnt at the top of the graduate school mountain but there in the sandpit at Nursery school.  I learnt how to live and what to do and how to be  in kindergarten.”



It may be dated but the essence of the essay still holds true. In Preptopia we were preparing them not just for school but for life and this is one answer to tonight’s question. We are preparing them for life and instilling in them a love of learning.

Over the next few days I will share the next part of my discussion paper which addresses the topic further.

Sight Word Graphing – a link

There is a great blog called The Moffatt Girls which has a link to where you can purchase already made Sight Word Graphing Sets. The link is http://moffattgirls.blogspot.com/2011/08/pre-primer-sight-word-graphing.html.

Wordless Wednesday October 12th 2011












The Gentle Sound of Colour

Whilst investigating colour and light I placed some glass bottles filled with coloured water near one of our large bright windows. These bottles caught the children’s eye and invited them to explore the way the light shines through them and the effect of different coloured bottles being put together to reveal a new colour through the light.











Whilst playing with the bottles the children enjoyed the sound they made when knocked together. The next day I placed some glass jars with coloured water near another window along with a small silver fork.











The children seemed to be drawn to these as well and enjoyed making their own music, exploring and experimenting with the different sounds and ways to tap the jars with the fork.

In another area of the room they were provided with more glass jars and jugs of coloured water which they poured and filled and emptied to varying levels observing the differences in sounds and tones. They explored this simple music making experience for a long time and when they moved on and began to play and explore new ideas and interests I chose to leave the original bottles and jars in the classroom.











Even now, after several weeks have passed and the classroom is busy and loud, I often hear the gentle tinkling sounds of the coloured water and look over to see a child enjoying the process of making music.

Wordless Wednesday 31st August 2011

The Alphabet Monster

Please meet our classroom friend, the Alphabet Monster. He is bright green, soft and fluffy, likes to hang around his basket in the classroom and teaches us about sounds.








Every week in Prep we focus on a sound. We listen for and explore words that contain the sound, and learn how to form the letter that represents the sound. We gather objects from home and school that begin with the sound and put them in the Alphabet Monster’s basket. We put pictures of things that begin with the sound, on the wall above where our monster friend likes to hang out on his basket.










All week we like to add things to his basket and build a collection of objects that begin with or contain the sound. Friday is the Alphabet Monster’s favourite day because he gets to reveal all the things inside his basket.  We all sit in a circle and the special helper of the day helps the alphabet monster take the things out of his basket and display them in the middle of the circle. After an item is taken out we problem solve how to write the name of the item to create a label for the object. We discuss where in the word we can hear the sound and use a different colour to write the sound’s letter in the word.



Some sounds are more challenging than others for collecting a large group of objects and sometimes an object begins with the correct letter but not the correct sound. We discuss these differences and learn about new sounds and new ways to represent sounds. For example unicorn begins with u but does not begin with  the short /u/ sound and giraffe begins with the /j/ sound but begins with g not j. Thanks goodness the alphabet monster is wise and can teach us about these tricky concepts.

After labeling all the objects, each child is given a divided peice of paper, selects an item, and takes it and the word to a table, copies  the it onto their paper and draws a picture of the item.



The children record 4 items and words that contain the sound on their paper, highlighting the letters position in the word and glue this into their sound book. We also photograph the items to create a class sound book and record the text to assist us with the sound recognition.

When we have to achieve mandated outcomes particularly in literacy, anything that makes our learning engaging and fun has to be a welcome addition to the classroom and that is exactly why our Alphabet Monster is such a favourite (and not to mention wise) member of our class.  Although……… he is usually a bit grumpy every Friday afternoon because his basket is empty and he has to wait until Monday morning to collect and look after  items beginning with our new sound.










The Dinosaur Museum

“We want to build a dinosaur museum” said the children and from those few words an exciting investigation into dinosaurs began. We talked about the role of curators in museums and the children selected a dinosaur so they could curate their own exhibit. To solve the issue of who would have which dinosaur the children took turns being paelentologists digging a dinosaur out of a sensory tub.




The children were unfamiliar with many of the dinosaurs in the collection and needed to do some research to discover their dinosaur’s name and other information.



They copied the names of their dinosaurs to make signs for the exhibits.




Lots of the dinosaur names were really tricky and we had fun clapping out the syllables and trying to remember what they were called by sounding out the letters. Thankfully most dinosaur names are phonetically correct.

Once the museum areas were built the children decided to create environmental displays for their dinosaurs. They discovered what their dinosaur ate and put this food into the display along with where they lived. Many of the dinosaurs were herbivores and the children made plants from the collage materials. The carnivores were given meat made from red paper.







Lots of measurement was incorporated into curating the displays as the children ensured their trees and other props were tall enough for the dinosaurs.











Information Reports were written to provide all the museum visitors with the same kind of information about the dinosaurs. On the reports the children identified the name of the dinosaur, if it was a Herbivore/Carnivore/Omnivore. How many legs they walked on and the kind of skin covering they had plus something else of interest. These reports were added to the exhibits.









The children also made fossil rubbing books to sell and made clay fossils to display in the museum.
















The children traced around the dinosaur floor puzzles to create art for the museum.








Finally, when all was ready, the Prep class next door was invited in to view the dinosaur exhibit. Each curator shared their knowledge with the visitors.













Here are some other dinosaur related experiences-

    Dinosaur digging.







       Fossil printing using playdough.







       Dinosaurs in goop.






Exploring fossil skeletons on the overhead projector.


Dinosaur counting in a sensory tub of rice.



Some of the web sites we used included


Harry and his bucket full of dinosaurs – http://youtu.be/4Qo3ccu0H40

Dinosaur Digging – http://www.sesamestreet.org/game_player/-/pgpv/gameplayer/0/a84724b6-9ddc-4602-b6d2-656e236c406f/dig_for_dinosaurs



Blue is a quiet colour.

We have been exploring colour and over the last few weeks we have discussed and investigated cool colours and warm colours using the Interactive Whiteboard to look at images that depict these concepts. Here are some examples of what the children did during these investigations and I will share the process with you in the next post.







In keeping with their interest, yesterday I read the children One by Kathryn Otoshi. I find this book with it’s bright, beautiful and simple illustrations very moving. For those who don’t know the book, it is a story about colours and numbers but hidden inside is so much more. The colours and numbers are metaphors for a group of children, each of whom has their own personality. Blue is quiet and contemplative, yellow is sunny, green is bright, purple is regal, orange is outgoing, but red is HOT. He is a bully, who picks on blue. The other colors are sympathetic, they like blue but are afraid of Red and don’t tell him to stop. Feeling more and more powerful red becomes bigger and stronger until everyone is bullied and there seems to be nothing they can do.

But then “1” arrives. He stands up to red and says no. This gives the other colors the courage to do the same and as they do so they change from shapeless colors into numbers whilst declaring “Me Two” , “Me Three”, “Me Four” and “Me Five”. Blue then declares he wants to “COUNT” as well and when red, in desperation, bullies blue again, blue becomes 6. I love it when blue says “Red can be really hot but blue can be super cool.” When red blows his fuse and tries to roll over the numbers, they stand together, and red becomes small. He begins to roll away and then comes, perhaps the most beautiful moment of the book. Blue invites red to count too he says “Red can be hot AND Blue can be cool” and red becomes 7 and joins in. The final message of the book is that “sometimes is just takes One.”

My preppies found this book just as moving as I did and there was lots of discussion around the colours and the concepts within the story. I think our prior investigations into how colour can represent moods and feelings really helped them to understand the hidden concepts and metaphors in the story. Today they asked me to read it again and at the end of the reading, and as if to a script, one of my children said “what about zero?” which I just happened to have ready and waiting.


Zero is the sequel to One. Once again this amazing author proves you can have big discussions with little numbers. Zero sees herself as a big round number with emptiness inside. The other numbers are more colourful. They have fun, and they count. Zero tries to stretch and pinch herself into another shape (1, 8, or 9) and makes a grand entrance that sends the other numbers tumbling. Zero is feeling even more deflated after this and is ready to listen to some wise words: “‘Every number has value,’ said Seven. ‘Be open. You’ll find a way.’”The children practised being inflated and deflated to gain more insight into how Zero was feeling.

 Zero is inspired by the advice Seven gives and shows the numbers how to “count even more.”  With her help, 1 becomes 10, 2 becomes 20, and so on and so on. Zero realizes her value and feels whole. I think my favorite part of the story is when zero realizes that she’s not empty inside, she’s just open and it’s after she realizes the importance of being open that great things start to happen.  The message isn’t quite as clear and straightforward as “One”, but the children loved watching the numbers growing particularly as their favourite video in the Virtual Classroom is about counting to 100 and beyond with the addition of zeros. They really enjoyed the art and we discussed how it was created using water colours. A medium we will now have to further explore.

After the reading and discussions we had today. I walked away inspired, thinking that was amazing. One child’s question has  extended our  journey into art and it’s concepts, and will now encompass many other learning areas such as Early Maths Understandings and Investigating Phenomena.

Then I remembered the message in the first book……… it only takes just one.