Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Creating Bears: The Process and The Product

I have realized over the last couple years how much it bothers me that so many things in Early Childhood have to be Right or Wrong. A school/teacher either has to follow one philosophy or another. If you are play-based than you are not allowed to sing the Alphabet Song. If you are a quality program than you would never allow children to play with food. These are just a couple examples of the never ending list of do's and don'ts of preschool.

Another example of this is the great debate between Process Art versus Products. I am a firm believer in children being allowed to express themselves freely through art with available open ended materials. I also agree that if children are always provided with a template or an example, that their creativity will most likely be stifled. 

 I have realized more and more that it doesn't have to be one or the other. There are many types of learning styles and personalities in every classroom. If a variety of methods are not used, than how will the needs of all the children be met?

There is just as much value in crafting as there is in process art. Both provide a chance for creativity, expression and learning, when they are approached with specific children's needs in mind.

Every single thing that a teacher provides in the classroom should be done with intention. 

My basic rules for creating projects in the classroom:
Children should always have choices on the outcome of their craft or project
An adult should NEVER adjust or finish a child's project for any reason.
All the finished products should look unique in their own way.

Here is an example from this week on how a project might be presented in our classroom:

At circle time I showed the children all the pieces that would be available during this project. I showed them different ways that they could put them together to create a bear. 
I did not have a finished product glued together. 

The supplies were later available at the table for the children to create their bears.

Almost all the pieces available were circles, but the black pieces were bunch of different sizes and also included some heart shapes too. 

I sat at the table and spoke with the children and showed them a real teddy bear. On the teddy bear I pointed out the bear's "muzzle" and how it had a nose and mouth on its muzzle. Many of the children wanted to include that, but some chose not to. 

Many of the children have been struggling with getting things to stick with glue sticks, so this was a good chance to practice.  In order to encourage the children to be thoughtful about their bears and to make a plan, I asked them to put their bears together first and then I would give them the glue stick once we talked about it. (Glue sticks are always available for free gluing, which some children really enjoy and seem to NEED to do) 

Again, it is all about a balance at our preschool.

 Everybody had a very different idea about how they wanted their bears to look. 

The bear below was a wonderful example of how adults need to be VERY careful before making assumptions about children's work. When I saw the bear below I wondered if the child had decided to add arms and legs instead of ears (which would have been completely fine in our classroom). The child (almost three) told me that the two circles on the sides were cheeks. :)  Sadly, I know many classrooms would have told the child that they took too many ears or simply removed them for the child without even asking. 

The final products all had their own unique flair that truly reflected the personalities of their creators.

The children were very proud of their projects! 

I am looking forward to seeing if this inspires anybody to create more things with paper, shapes and glue at the table during their own time. 

A couple years ago we did a similar art project, but the children were a bit older and the activity was much more open ended. I am hoping in a another year I will be seeing similar projects from my current group of children. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dining Inspiration

Meal time has always been a work in progress at Inch By Inch. It is a very important part of our day. We have two snacks together and lunch. We have tried different styles of serving and presentation. Currently our children use ceramic plates, glass cups and glass pitchers. Most of the time the children serve their own water, but teachers serve the food. We have tried passing food around the table family style, but have struggled with making it work. 

Lunch at Inch By Inch

When I attended Play Iceland recently I was able to see two different types of meal presentation. Both were lovely and inspired me to keep experimenting. It has encouraged me to look more closely at other ways to allow the children more independence during meal time. 

Lunch at Leikskólinn Stekkjarás

Both of our tours took place mostly in the morning. We were able to see the set up at the first playschool, but didn't actually see the lunch in progress. I loved the place settings at Stekkjaras, especially the food carts and serving dishes.  We were told that in most of the classrooms, the children serve themselves. 
In Iceland the playschools have a high focus on healthy eating and the slow food movement. 
The playschool has a chef who makes the food from scratch daily including the bread.

I loved the plates, they would be great for soup or as a regular plate. 

Lunch at Leikskólinn Aðalþing

Adalthing has over a 100 students, who all share this unique dining room. This dining room is in the center of the school and can seat 29 children. Only 26 children are allowed to be in the dining room at any given time. This means that the child entering the dining room always has a choice about where they sit. During a certain period of time, children are allowed to leave their classroom to walk down and have their lunch. There is a buffet (on the far right wall) where children can serve their own food and then take a seat where they please. When the children are finished they clear their settings and walk back to their rooms. There are usually three teachers in the room who supervise the safety of the children and occasionally explain new offerings on the buffet. 
Children are able to make choices about what they eat and how many helpings they need. Staff have found the children are more engaged and relaxed at the table.
I simply fell in love with the idea of all these different tables and seating options. I know several children in my group who would gain more socially from sitting with smaller groups, without teachers at the table. My plan is to slowly eliminate one of my bigger tables and include several different height and size tables.

Suzanne from Interaction Imagination was with me during my visit and has included more details in her post here

As I was brainstorming about this post, I decided to also include photos from a couple other smaller settings that have inspired me with their meal times. 

Lunch at Today's Play

Tammy at Today's Play values family style meals.  The first photo is a typical lunch time at her small Home Child Care. She always has the most beautiful centerpieces and provides real plates and utensils. 

The bottom photo is an example of one of her buffet style meals. This is a "Pasta Salad Bar" where the children can select and serve themselves the items they want in their Pasta Salad. She has also done a Yogurt Bar, where children can select from granola, fruit and other healthy toppings. 

I would love to include more centerpieces. 
I also love her divided Corelle plates. 

Breakfast Bar at Exploration Child Care

Careese has found a great breakfast system for her In-Home Child Care. Every morning she has a selection of items prepared and displayed on her counter. At drop-off time parents help the child select their breakfast and then follow them to the table before they say good-bye. This allows the caregiver more time to help prepare bottles for the infants and speak with parents. It has created a much smoother transition in her program. 

What a great morning ritual for the children and their parents!