A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

Posts tagged ‘early childhood education’

Technology in the Early Years – A Philosophical Discussion

We live in a digital age. An age in which information is rapidly changing and a society that is communication focussed. Our world is networked and whilst networks have always existed, they are now more prominent, as well as more global.  This connectedness, the shrinking half life of information and the challenge of keeping current, as well as the current social trends in the rise of the individual, immediacy and now, and the notion of internationalism all need to be considered by educators when planning for the children who live in, and are the future of, this rapidly changing information and communication focussed society. The new national curriculum also recognises these changes and whilst it’s focus is on content, this content includes multimodal texts and their analysis through the development of higher order thinking in all areas and subjects.

When I think back to when my current prep children were born, 5 or 6 years ago, many homes still had dial up internet connection, laptops were heavy and bulky, social networking sites were very new and and iPods were the latest thing on every teenagers wish list.  Now they have started school and “smart phones” are common, broadband and wireless internet is the norm; people communicate via email, texting, tweeting on twitter and/or posting on Facebook and the children can use an iPod/ iPad/iPhone as easily as they can build with blocks.  These children should they attend University will graduate in 2027. What will the world  look like then? What kind of technology will be the norm in society, at home and…… in education?

As far back as 1986, when computers and ICT were just beginning to  appear in homes, Bruner wrote we are living through bewildering times where the conduct of education is concerned. There are deep problems that stem from many origins-principally from a changing society whose future we cannot foresee and for which it is difficult to prepare a new generation (The Language of Education p.21). The idea that we as a society, and in particular as educators, need to prepare children for a future that we can only guess about, has made me think and reflect more deeply on my pedagogical practice than any other.

In the 30 plus years I have been an early childhood educator, my teaching and learning philosophy has been based primarily on the Constructivist Theory and the typical early childhood setting provided children with opportunities to participate in group and individual activities which were open to a variety of approaches. Children are able to experiment in an open ended manner, explore their ideas and experiment using  first-hand experiences, rather than relying on the teacher’s authority. The theorists upon whose work these ideas are  justified included Bruner and his work on inquiry and discovery learning; Ausabel- who highlighted the centrality of the learners existing knowledge structures in designing curriculum; and in particular Piaget and Vygotsky who believed that children “were not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge”. Constructivists believe that knowledge and learning are based on prior knowledge and learning, and the process of building upon prior knowledge is an active one, one in which the learner must be engaged. They believe that learners fit together new information based on what they already know. Piaget and Vygotsky emphasised the idea that ‘knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environmentand defined the role of the teacher as facilitating the learners own activity. Constructivist learning experiences nurture curiosity and emphasise authentic tasks in a meaningful context, where these tasks are real-world learning situations and settings.(Jonassen,1994 p.34)

 Other researchers who have influenced my pedagogy include the brain researchers who believed that children take in information through all their senses and that early childhood is a critical period for brain development and Bronfenbrenner who believed that children live and learn within multiple social and cultural contexts and their development and learning is greatly influenced by their backgrounds, lifestyles, culture and prior knowledge. He also believed that learning is a reciprocal process and interactions with people, objects and symbols affect children’s understandings, capabilities and dispositions. I also believe that we need to give children agency and a voice, with “agency” being children having the power to make choices and decisions and “voice” defined as children having their ideas and opinions heard and their diverse experiences valued and responded to.(Early Years Curriculum Guidelines p.96)

Many of these educational theorists were working in a time when learning and society was not impacted through technology but now “including technology and connection making as learning activities begins to move learning theories into the digital age. Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the shifts in society and provides insights into learning skills needed for learners to flourish in a digital age.(George Siemens, 2005). Interestingly, these skills of making connections using technology, syhnthesising  information to make decisions and choices, and learning where to seek information are the kind of “learning to learn” skills and thinking that fit very well with the Constructivists theories and my play and enquiry based philosophy. 

With all of this in mind, for me it is not a question of do I use ICT in my classroom but how I use it.

My classroom is full of open ended resources and materials for everyone to use, many of which have been traditional components of an early childhood environment for a long time. They encourage children to be active participants in a variety of social contexts and are open to a variety of approaches, allowing for individual learning styles and stages of development and learning. They are all carefully selected and changed according to my children’s needs and interests and this is how I also use ICT. In my classroom the children have access to lots of different kinds of ICT including a digital camera, an iPod Touch, Talking books with stories written and illustrated by the children, 3 Bee Bots, a digital microscope, 2 computers, an Interactive Whiteboard and a laptop and they are all integrated into the curriculum and learning just like any other resource. They are not used in isolation and I make professional judgements about them just as I do anything else. Some things such as the iPod touch are used in similar ways to older technology such as tape players and listening posts (especially with the addition of a multi-plug head phone device) but we also embrace their additional capabilities for recording learning and ideas. Other ICT’s such as the IWB have opened up endless opportunities for co-constructing learning in an active and social way (whilst developing fine motor skills as the children use their finger on it as well as motor co-ordination as they move their arm across their midline when going from 1 side to another.)

As you have read this discussion you will probably have noticed that I haven’t mentioned play. Vygotsky states that play is of critical importance in children’s cognitive development (Early Years Curriculum Guidelines p.95) As an early childhood educator, I believe that play is, for young children, the most important context for learning as it provides opportunities to organise and make sense of the social world, actively engage with people, objects and representations, problem solve and experiment, and involves pleasure and imagination. This kind of play can be supported through the use of the wonderful resources available on the internet and other interactive technologies and activities. ICT’s can help children make connections between what they know and new knowledge. ICT’s  provide them with opportunities to develop higher order thinking as they play and experiment with them, just as they would play and experiment with anything else. This learning through experimentation and problem solving can also be related to adults who, if asked about how they learnt to use their new iPad or phone will usually tell you that they just played around with it. I don’t think many adults read the manual, although they might search the internet for video tutorials, often made by a tween or teenager.

Over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. Learning needs and theories that describe learning principles and processes, should be reflective of underlying social environments.(George Siemens 2004)

 So can Constructivism and Connectivism work together? I think they can, because a 21st classroom that nurtures children’s innate curiosity and ability to play, is supportive and flexible, embraces it’s traditional components as well as ICT’s, and integrates them both into the curriculum wherever possible,  will provide children with the opportunity to make connections and to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes for being lifelong learners – essential for living in our rapidly changing world.

The Singing Tree

My prep children love to sing and dance and in our classroom we have a Singing Tree. The tree has little fabric bags on it and the children like to choose a bag off the tree, open it and take out what is inside. The object will either be very specific to a song or nursery rhyme, or will  be something more open such as a frog or a duck, allowing the children to choose a song from their repetoire about this object.

 

Hickory, Dickory Dock

Most of the objects are Wade Whimsies which are small ceramic figurines which I bought on eBay. The children really like them because they are small and very tactile.

5 Little Speckled Frogs Mr Frog etc

 To begin the year, I usually have familiar nursery rhymes and songs in the bags and as we learn new songs during the year we add more bags to the tree. I have found, at the start of the year, that it is very useful for practicing turn taking, waiting, and encouraging the children to participate in group times as they all want a turn to choose a bag.

 The children often incorporate the tree into their dramatic play and they have used it as the provocation for a series of concerts that the children planned and performed over a week during play time.

The first Singing Tree was an artificial tree but one of the leg stands got broken and so it has now been replaced by a real potted tree with butterfly lights in it. I’ll have to see what the children think about it next week when they come back from holidays. Hopefully they’ll like it even more!

Hey Diddle Diddle

 We also have bags for movement games and songs eg. a bag with a child figurine inside can be anything from Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to a Freeze game. We now have almost 25 song bags and it is great when someone chooses a song we haven’t sung for awhile because with all the songs we know, it is easy to forget some of the old favourites.
 
 

Leaf Threading with help from a Very Hungry Caterpillar

The natural beauty of the garden and playground offers many and varied opportunities for children to think, create, imagine and develop motor skills. The large trees in our school are losing some of their leaves for winter (we don’t really have autumn here in Qld.) The children began collecting these leaves and, using sticks, tried to thread them. Unsuccessfully. Next they tried using long grass but found it difficult to make holes/cuts in the leaves to thread the grass through. One of the children said “we need the hungry caterpillar.” and so………never one to miss an opportunity to enhance fine motor skills, that afternoon I quickly glued some pom poms, eyes and a pipe cleaner onto some hole punches and our Very Hungry Caterpillar Hole Punches were born!

I was a bit concerned about how well the pom poms would stay on but the children didn’t want to “squash” the caterpillar and so, by using just the  end of the hole punch, their finger strength and control was really challenged to get the caterpillar to bite into the leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, the children were very engaged in “feeding the hungry caterpillars” outside, punching holes in all the leaves they could find. For awhile their focus was on seeing how many bites they could put in a leaf which meant lots of finger strengthening, counting and discussion about the size and shape of the leaves. They experimented with folding some of the softer leaves to see what would happen and talked about symmetry not just in the leaves, but with their bite holes as well.

Once their curiosity was satisfied the children selected the leaves they wanted to use for threading and set to work. It took a lot of eye-hand coordination and concentration to thread the long leaves and grass through the holes and their persistence was amazing.

This experience demonstrates the importance of allowing children to be free to  explore their own ideas and for we the adults, to value, assist, and support them. The simple addition of the hole punches provided the children with the tools, and making them into caterpillars’ based upon a child’s idea, was a further provocation to enhancing their personal learning, fine motor, thinking and investigating skills in a real and valid way through their experimentation with leaf threading. This is how I love to teach, and tick the reporting boxes  …………by using the children’s ideas and interests through a child negotiated curriculum.

Learning Statements –

Investigating the Natural World

Fine Motor Skills

Imagining and Responding

Thinking

The Great Drink Bottle Investigation – a teachable moment with magnets

In our classroom we embrace and value the opportunities that teachable moments present to us. These moments provide rich and valid opportunities for learning and require a flexible learning environment. Here is an example of one such opportunity.

We had been investigating magnets and sorting objects according to their magnetic properties.

 

After lunch one day, as the children were putting their lunch boxes and drink bottles away, one of the children wondered if their metal drink bottle would be attracted to a magnet. Another child with a metal drink bottle also wondered the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

The first child tried his drink bottle and discoved the magnet would stick to it. He put it in the basket of other magnetic objects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second child tested his metallic drink bottle and discovered the magnet would not stick to it. Hmmmmmmm this was interesting,  and so began ………. The Great Drink Bottle Investigation, with all the children deciding to test their drink bottles and make predictions about their magnetic properties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the children got out their drink bottles and choosing the small magnets from our collection, individually tested their drink bottles.

They made predictions and hypothesis and tested out their thoughts.

The drink bottles were sorted into groups according to their magnetic properties.

 

Lots of counting and mathematical language, such as more and less, was used during the investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We discovered that the magnets were attracted to 4 of the drink bottles and not to 18 of them. The interesting  thing we discovered was that some of the 18 bottles were made of metal. This posed a new question – Why do some metals attract magnets and other don’t?

We did some further research and discovered………………

This slide is from the web site Communication4all.

This led us into finding and sorting lots of metal objects to see if they were made from iron.

Learning Statements –

Thinking

Investigating Natural Phenomena

Early Maths Understandings

Oral Language

Investigating Technology

R is for Rumpus – Where the Wild Things Are

Our sound for the week was /r/ and the timimg couldn’t have been more perfect because after lots of preparation, we were ready for our wild rrrrrrrumpus. We had been enjoying Maurice Sendak’s classic story Where the Wild Things Are and had made lots of preparations for our rumpus. I believe that children are capable and competent and in our classroom the children are given lots of opportunities to express themselves creatively. An example of this is when they decided to make masks. We discussed what kinds of materials they needed to make their masks and the children set to work. The children wanted to draw their mask shape onto coloured cardboard and then cut it out. (I rarely give them a template as I like the children to think for themselves.) The only input I had in this process was helping them with the eyes for their masks, as they needed to be able to see for the rumpus.The children either drew the shapes themselves or they told me the shape they wanted and I helped them cut it out. Once cut out, they decorated their masks any way they wanted using materials from the collage trolley.

 

With the masks underway, some of the other children made the forest where the wild things live. They used our waffle blocks for tree trunks and fabric for the tree tops, roots and forest floor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of the children decided to make Max a boat so he could sail away to Where the Wild Things Are –

 

 

 

  When the boat was finished, the children used fabric, to make the ocean.

 

 

 

Our giant boa constrictor reminded the children of the first wild thing Max meets,( the one in the water), and so they decided to make him a wig and horns so he looked like the one in the book.

 

 It took a few tries before they had the horns the way they wanted them.

Sadly I forgot to take a photo of the “wild thing” boa constrictor!

 

 

 

Finally all was ready for the rrrrrrrumpus!

The wild things rrrrrrrroared their terrible rrrrrrroars…………..

 

and gnashed their terrible teeth………….

 

and rrrrrolled their terrible eyes………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and showed their terrible claws…………..

 

 

Until Max said “Be still………………….”

 

 

 

and they made him king of all the wild things……………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and now said Max “let the wild rumpus start……………..”. We even had our own jungle beat to “rumpus” to.

 

 

 

Then Max sent them off to bed without their supper…………..

 

 

He wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. So he waved goodbye to the wild things………………………..

 

and sailed away back home…… We loved our rrrrrumpus and had lots of fun being wild things for the rrrrrrest of the term. 

Learning Statements –

Imagining and Responding

Oral Language

Fine and Gross Motor skills

Sense of Self and Others

Thinking

 

Where the Wild Things Are – Clay Creations

“The night Max wore his wolf suit………..” is the beginning of the much loved book Where the Wild Things Are. A book we have been exploring over the past few weeks and which has stimulated lots of opportunities for the children to be imaginative and creative. We have acted out the story using props and paper wild things, retold it using puppets, created a forest and masks and had our own rumpus using musical instruments and also used clay to create our own wild things. This is the first in a series of posts about these experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to making our clay creations we had many discusiions about the illustrations in the book, looking at the kinds of body parts and features of the “wild things”. We noticed that all of them had 2 legs but the legs were very different in size, shape and covering. We observed that their heads were very different, as were their bodies, and that some had tails and some didn’t. We looked at all the similarities and differences and using this prior knowledge, began creating their own wild things, out of the clay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted the children to make their wild thing without adding pieces ( because these tend to fall off when dry) so each child was given quite a large piece of fairly soft, air drying clay and  decided which way up they wanted it to be.   I discussed with each child what ideas they had for their “wild thing” and nearly all the children wanted to have 2 legs although some had none, 1 child made his quite flat and another child wanted 3 legs. The children found “karate chopping” the base in the centre was the easiest way to mould the clay for legs. Once they were happy with the legs, with or without feet and claws, they shaped the body, making decisions about arms, wings, shape and size. Sometimes they shaped the head before deciding on body features and sometimes the head was part of the body. It was up to them what they wanted, I viewed my role in this process as a sounding board for their ideas.

The head was the focus of lots of conversations, as they considered the kind of head and features they wanted. Usually, children make the head first when drawing, so it was interesting to observe how they went about this experience with the head being one of the last things to be made. Sometimes the children found they needed to modify the body to ensure they had enough clay for the head. So the whole creative process involved a lot of thinking and problem solving.

This "wild thing" has stripes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once they were happy with the shape of their wild things, the children used a pencil to create texture and add more features.

 

Once they were air dry, the children wanted to paint their wild things………. with yellow eyes of course, so Max could stare into them and tame them! (I had initially planned to leave them unpainted but the children really wanted to paint them.)

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of the finished Wild Things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning Statements-

Imagining and Responding

Thinking

Fine Motor Skills

Social and Personal Learning

Patterning with Picasso the Green Tree Frog

Earlier in the year we had the pleasure of raising some tadpoles and watching them grow and change into frogs. One of the stories we read during this process was Picasso the Green Tree Frog. This story is a favourite of mine not just because  its a full of fun but also because it demonstrates to children that life is full of changes and that changes can be for better or for worse depending on your perspective.

 

 

 

In the story Picasso has some fun with jelly beans and this can be a great stimulus for sorting and patterning, colour recognition and cutting skills. When I read this story I use  my frog puppet to discuss where green tree frogs live and the children like to make a tree for my puppet to live in and this is where the fun begins.

Once Picasso is in his tree the children love to make jelly beans for him. As a small group activity, the children choose some coloured jellybeans drawn on paper and cut them out. The children then make a pattern using 2 or 3 colours and repeat it, stapling them onto green crepe paper. These are then hung up, and before you know it, Picasso has a very colourful tree full of jelly beans and the children have practiced sorting colours and, creating and repeating patterns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To add to the fine motor practice the children can also cut out their own frogs and scrunch crepe paper into little balls to glue on, to make their own Picasso. We have also scrunched and glued coloured crepe paper onto coloured paddle pop sticks to make the caterpillar at the end of the story.

Learning Statements-

Early Maths Understandings

Fine Motor Skills

Thinking

Imagining and Responding