Monday, September 7, 2009

Meteorology in Preschool

This week we studied the sun. I always start out the week by asking a question pertaining to whatever we are studying. This week my question was, "What does the sun do?". Here are the the responses I got...

It gets into your eyes.

It burns your eyeballs so you have to wear sunglasses.

It follows you.

It makes our mouths hot.

Makes you stay inside.

It stays in the sky.

If you stay in the sun too long it could make you die.

It gets you sweaty.

It makes our eyes hot.

It stays yellow.

It makes the house shady.

It can dry us up.

It goes up and down.

During this week, we had a very rare cloudy day, so on a whim, I asked the kids, "What is a cloud?". And here are those responses...

They are made of fish.

They are white.

They are in the sky and fluffy.

I think if I could touch one, it would be hard.

If you look real hard, they sometimes can have a face.

They go under planes.

They are sometimes like stripes.

They are made of water, and when they get full they turn gray and then rain comes out. (This child obviously has studied the water cycle prior to coming to my class...).

They move in the sky.

It was a fun week. :0)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chasing Kittens

School has started, and it is just as fun as ever. I love getting to know a new bunch of kids, and then tracking how much they grow over the next ten months.

This year's class has a lot of kids I have known since they were in utero. I find it miraculous that a mere three years ago my students were tiny babies that I held in my arms and cooed over, and now I am expecting them to pour their own juice and go potty in the toilet. Me? I haven't changed at all in the past three years, other than maybe a few more wrinkles.

The first few weeks of school are always chaotic. It always takes me a few weeks to get the paperwork figured out (correct spellings of names, student files complete, the parent helper calendar filled out, etc.) and to get back into the daily routine. And if it is challenging for me, imagine what it must be like for these three-year-olds. While I struggle with student files, they are struggling with being left in a new place, with a new grown-up. And this grown-up has the audacity to tell them what to do.

Which explains why when this new grown-up does make a suggestion, that it is more often than not ignored. I mean, why should they listen? They don't know me, and are fairly confident if they ignore me nothing bad will happen. And they are right.

Trying to get the kids to make the transition from outside time back to inside time is always the most challenging part of my day. By definition, recess is awesome, but we always try to make it super awesome - especially in the first few weeks of school. The kids get to feed Patton, our school's tortoise (Patton has the ability to make separation anxiety just disappear), spin endlessly on our tire swing, shoot some hoops, and, a current favorite, make rivers, canals, waterfalls and dams in our sandpit which we put the hose in. In Arizona it is a bazillion degrees outside now, so even if we get wet playing in the sand and water, we are dry before we walk the length of the playground.

So, with all this stuff to do, when I sing my special line up song, I am not at all surprised that not one kid lines up. So, I will gather a couple kids up, tell them how it is time to go in and have our awesome snack, and lead them over to the wall where we line up. And then go to gather a few more kids with the same speech. And as I lead the new set of kids over to the wall, I realize the original group I had placed there have gone back out to the playground. So, back I go to retrieve the kids that left. And when I get back, the other kids are gone.

We call this "Chasing Kittens". Those of us who teach three-year-olds always refer to the first six weeks of school as the Chasing Kittens phase. We actually "chase kittens" all day long, but it actually reaches the really, really funny level on the playground. The four-year-old and kindergarten teachers laugh hysterically as we chase these babies around, trying to convince them that actually going inside to a cool room with lots of cold water is preferable to being outside in the sweltering heat.

What's weird is even though I know I will be chasing kittens on the playground, I never allow enough time for it. I keep having to shorten music time to accommodate for the kitten factor.

It is now the second week of school, and the kids are starting to get it. I am starting to chase the kittens a little less, and in a few weeks the kids will start using peer pressure to get the last kittens to join the group. And while I love it when the kids start to know the routine, and do what is expected, I always feel a pang of sadness when I realize I won't have to chase kittens for another year. These babies are on their way to their scholastic careers, and will never be "kittens" again.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Real Life Pretend Play

Ok, couldn't think of a good title for this blog...

So, our summer program has been progressing wonderfully this year. The kids and grown-ups have all been having a great time.

Last week, one of the classrooms was set up to be a grocery store. The kids were given a grocery list of items they needed to collect to prepare their snack. For example, one day the snack was Banana Dogs. On their list was a banana, a hot dog bun, and peanut butter. The classroom was set up into different areas, so they had to go to the "bakery" to get the hot dog bun, the "produce section" to get the banana, and the "canned good aisle" to get the peanut butter. Each child had a shopping basket, and when they found the item, they checked it off their list, and put it into their basket.

Because it was a pretend grocery store, of course we had to have a pretend check out area as well, complete with cash register, a scanner and pretend money. We thought the kids would have a great time playing store.

And they did. But what happened is that they got it in their mind they needed to pay for their snack. They would stand in line at the one cash register, baskets in hand, and wait patiently to pay for their snacks with wads of crumpled pretend money. The lines would sometimes get as long as ten kids, all standing with the baskets on their hips, tapping their toes, and looking extremely bored. Just like everyone of us has done probably at least once a week since reaching adulthood. We did suggest to the kids that they could just go ahead and sit down, and not "pay"; "But that would be stealing!" we were told. Ok.

What if no one was manning the pretend register? The customer would stand there, looking irritated, and shout, "I need help here!" until another child would run over to check out the waiting customer.

We got the biggest kick out of this very unexpected twist to our grocery store. Did they want to pay because they had been standing in lines at grocery stores with their parents since infancy? Are we genetically programmed to stand in line after checking items off a shopping list? Who knows. But it sure was fun. And funny.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Proven Wrong, Yet Again

Every year, I do a unit about Transportation. As part of this unit, we have a discussion about traffic lights. It is a good opportunity to talk about spatial relationships, colors, and introduce perennial favorite, Red Light/Green Light.

I get out my red, yellow and green circles, and arrange them on my white board, putting them in the correct order. We talk about how the red light is on top, the yellow light is in the middle, and the green light is on the bottom. And this is when little David raises his hand and says, "But really, green is in the middle."

I reply, with a note of condescension in my voice, "No, honey, green is on the bottom." And I reference my handy diagram on the white board to illustrate my point.

David, with a tone of condescension in his voice says, "Yes, there the green light is on the bottom. In a real traffic light, the green light is in the middle."

Obviously, David is confused. But, this is easily remedied, because the preschool is located right on an intersection, complete with traffic light. Field Trip!

I gather the class and we march outside to look at the traffic light. I was so excited to have the opportunity to use a real life example to show David this concept.

We all look up at the traffic light, and....from the top, here is the order of the lights. Red, yellow, green, yellow arrow, green arrow. Yes, The green light is in the middle. I am a dork, and obviously not versed in traffic light appearance in my city.

David, being a kind and understanding soul, did not jump up and down and yell, "In your FACE!" He simply said, "See? Real traffic lights are different than ones you make out of paper."

When will I learn that these kids know way more than me???


Friday, June 19, 2009

Watching Them Grow

It is no secret that I truly love my job. I can talk non-stop about preschool, and the kids, and what they're learning, and how they're growing, for hours. And one of the best parts is watching these kids grow. Not physically, although that is always amazing, but socially and emotionally. We teachers work very hard to provide our students the tools they need to navigate in the world. We strive to teach them empathy, conflict resolution and self-reliance. And the absolute joy I feel when I see my students put to use what we've worked so hard to teach is AWESOME. I have been known to cry.

Our little preschool offers a fabulous summer program every summer. Every summer, several students new to the program join us for the summer to get them ready for preschool in the fall. Last summer, one of our new students was Mark. Mark was painfully shy and had never been to preschool before. Preschool, I think, can be a pretty intimidating place to a child, even if you do your best to make it as friendly and inviting as possible.

Mark really had no idea how to interact with his peers. He wasn't sure how to initiate play, he didn't know how to join in play, wasn't sure how to go about asking for a turn, and was completely helpless if another child took a toy away from. He was so overwhelmed with everything, that he spent a lot of time under tables, crying.

So we started to work with him, and give him the tools he needed. And little by little, Mark came out of his shell, and gained his confidence. We cheered the first time he asked a group of kids, "Can I play with you?". We were beside ourselves when he approached a friend for the first time and said, "Do you want to play with me?". And when he finally had the confidence to tell a child, "Please don't do that, I don't like that, you can have a turn when I'm done!", we all congratulated ourselves on a job well done. The jumping up and down and cheering came when he tentatively started to make mischief. We knew then he had finally come into his own.

(For the record, Mark was not my student, his teacher, Mrs. M., deserves the credit for helping with his social and emotional development).

Well, here it is summer again, and Mark has joined us for our summer program again. He is a leader in the group, showing the younger ones the ropes and being a good and kind friend. Of course, we have several new students, and Mark is so patient with the kids who just don't know how things are at school.

I witnessed this exchange last week....

A little boy who is new to the program, Todd, went up to Mark and tried to take the hammer out of Mark's hand. Mark, very patiently says, "I am using the hammer now, you can have a turn when I am done."

Todd makes another grab for the hammer. Mark: "I am using this, wait for your turn."

Todd wedges his way between Mark and the nail that Mark was hammering. Mark: "I don't like that, you are in the way and you could get hurt. Please get out of my way."

Todd, still firmly in the way starts grabbing at the hammer and shoving Mark. Mark's patience has run out, and he is clearly frustrated and starts yelling, "I don't like that! Wait for your turn! You can have a turn when I'm done!" It was like he opened up his tool box of ways to deal with conflict and used up every tool he had. He looks up at me, throws his hands in the air and shrugs his shoulders and gives the non-verbal "I got nothing left, here, Mrs.V."

I walk over to physically remove Todd from the situation, and start him down the road of how to resolve conflicts in preschool ("Mark is using that hammer. I bet if you asked him if you could use it when he was done, he would say yes"). As I walk away, Mark says, "That boy really needs to go to preschool."

And, we have come full circle. How awesome is that?


Preschool to a Three Year Old

Imagine coming to preschool for the first time. You arrive at a brand new place, filled with a lot of kids you don't know, and a lot of grown-ups you don't know. The grown-ups seem nice, but why do they come on so strong? Why do I have to give this lady a high five? I have no idea who she is. She's my teacher? And a teacher is what exactly? And, wait a minute, MOM IS LEAVING ME HERE??????? With all these people I don't know????? What if I need to go potty? What if I don't know where I am supposed to go? .......sniff....

OK, these toys are pretty fun. I LOVE this truck. This is the coolest truck I've ever seen! I am going to make it go down this hill and pick up some....hey! Wait! I was playing with that. That is MY truck. Well, I am going to grab it out of your hand and then hit you with it. That will show you to take my truck. The teacher just told me to "use my words". I thought that is what I did.

Circle time? What is that?? Nope, I will stay here and play with this awesome truck. Why does the teacher keep telling me I have to come sit with her for Circle Time when I don't even know what that is?

Ohhhh, Circle Time means the teacher is reading us a story. I love stories. Why didn't the teacher say "read a story" instead of "Circle Time"? I wouldn't have thrown my truck across the room if I had known we were reading stories.

Oh no, I have to go potty. Really bad. I don't remember where the potty is, and I don't know how to unbutton my new shorts....sniff..

Wow, my teacher knew I needed to go potty, and she helped me unbutton my shorts. And then she stood outside the door in case I needed help. She seems pretty nice, I wonder what her name is?

Hey! That is MY truck. You can't have it. I am going to take it from you, because I want to play with it NOW! My teacher is saying I can't play with it because you are playing with it. So? I want to play with it NOW!!! I was playing with it and it is the only thing I want to play with and I don't want to wait until it is my turn and what is a "turn" anyway and I want that truck and I am going to hit you because that is my truck and.....sniff....

Teacher just said I could play with play dough while I waited for Jack to finish playing with the truck. I LOVE play dough. And teacher just gave me a different truck, and look! I can push my truck through the play dough and the wheels make tracks! This is so fun, now I am going to cover the whole truck in play dough and...

is that paint? There is paint here? I love painting. I want to paint! I want to paint right now! That girl is painting, I want to paint too. I wonder if I could just paint with her?

That girl started to cry when I painted with her, I thought my painting looked good and then she started to cry and teacher said "Let's find you a place to paint" but that girl is still crying and I just wanted to paint and I don't think I want to paint by myself.....sniff...

Teacher made me a place to paint right next to Ann. Ann isn't crying anymore and she said she likes pink. Ann said my painting was good. Ann is pretty. I am having so much fun painting next to Ann and we are both three years old and what? We get to go outside now? I LOVE playing outside!

This sandbox is the best sandbox ever. Teacher put the hose in the sandbox and showed me and Jack how to make rivers. She got really dirty. I am really dirty but Teacher said that is what laundry is for. She gave us little boats to float down our river and I think Jack is the best kid ever. We are going to make our river longer and race our boats and...

Why are we going in? I want to play in the sand! Why can't I stay outside? Why does Teacher keep changing things? What does "line up" mean? I don't want to stand next to that boy. I want to stand next to Jack. Now Teacher is telling me to sing. I don't know this song. I want to play in the sand. I am going back to play in the sand. Teacher just told me it was time to line up, but it really is time to play in the sand. I don't like this song and I don't want to sing, and I don't know what "line up" is and I don't want to go back in and what is snack time and.....sniff....

Wait-snack time means we get to eat! I am so hungry! I love carrots. What? I can only have three? What does "pass" mean? I am really hungry, if I give the bowl to the person next to me I might not get more. I will give him one. Why do I have to pass the whole bowl? I know how to give out a carrot. OK, here's the bowl. "Teacher!! Jack took a lot of carrots, you said take three!" I am going to take those carrots off Jack's plate because he took too many and, oowwww, why did Jack just hit me? He took too many carrots, and owwwww.......sniff...

Teacher is holding my hand and asking me if I am OK. I guess I am OK. She tells Jack that hitting hurts, and that we don't hit friends at school. Jack asked me if I am OK and I say yes and we give high fives. Jack is my best friend.

MOM IS HERE!!! She asks me if I had a good day at school. Ohhhh, this is school! I LOVE school. When do I get to come back? I love my teacher, mom, she made rivers! Who is Mrs. Velarde, and how would I know if she was nice?


Monday, June 8, 2009

Lunch Conversation at Preschool

Our little preschool offers an after school program, where children can stay for an extra two hours after the school day is over. They can play on the playground, do crafts, and generally just have fun. They also get to eat lunch, which they bring from home.

I had the privilege of working Stay 'N' Play this year, and got to eat lunch with the students nearly every day. This is always fun. A highlight for the kids is when they ask me to help them open their fruit cup or yogurt. Because, inevitably, without fail, I would spill whatever it was that I was opening down the front of me. By the end of the year, I could seriously rock the "yogurt down the chest with Dole peaches splashed on top" look. My own kids absolutely loved it when I picked them up from their school sporting this look.

One of the best parts of working Stay 'N' Play for me was simply talking with the kids. I love listening to how they interact with each other, the things they say and how no matter how outrageous the lunch conversation might be, no one under the age of 6 ever bats an eyelash. Those older than 6? Well, I for one have blown Diet Pepsi out my nose on more than one occasion.

The following is a lunch conversation that took place during the last week of school....

Lynn: I haven't pooped in a long time.

Kobey: I pooped just now. It stank.

Lynn: My mom says I need to poop everyday. She said my poops are all stuck in my butt.

Lilly: Why would they want to stay in your butt? Mine always want to come out.

Lynn: My mom says I need to eat different food to make the poop come out. I have an apple and a bagel (holds them up for all to see). She said if I eat these the poops will come out.

Me: Well, go ahead and eat them.

Lynn: But I don't want them to come out here!

Me: It will take at least an hour for that food to make the poops come out. Your mom will be here before then.

Lynn looks at me doubtfully as she begins to munch on her apple.

Lilly, to me: Do you know Zack?

Me: Yep (Zack is Lilly's older brother, and one of my former students)

Lilly, to everyone else: Well, Zack, he is my brother, and he is a dude. Dude means he is a boy.

Everyone else: nods in understanding and agreement.

Lynn: I don't have a dude for a brother. I only have a sister. Who's a girl.

Lilly: Well, since Zack is a dude, he has a penis. And I am not allowed to touch his penis because that is his private place. Mom tells me over and over to respect his privacy.

Bob: I have a penis - does that mean I am a dude?

Lilly: Yep. Only dudes get to have a penis.

Bob: You know what I have? (I am expecting the worst here) A new Lego set.

Kobey: Cool!

Lilly: I don't like legos.

Lynn: My dad likes Legos.

Me: I love Legos, but I can't make cool things out of them

Bob, with exasperated eye roll: No, you can't, Mrs. Velarde, Legos are for KIDS.

And so the conversation continued in that vein. I think they eventually jumped to Star Wars. What struck me about this whole exchange is that I was the only one freaking out about the topic selections. Everyone calmly ate their sandwiches and drank their juice boxes while I was was mentally trying to figure out how to delicately change topics without anyone's feelings getting hurt or causing some other emotional damage. But my intervention was not needed, because, to little ones, talking about their body is as natural as talking about their toys.

Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to have that ability as an adult?

Colleague: Wow, you seem a little off today.

Me: My poops are stuck in my butt.

Colleague: Did you eat an apple? That always makes my poops come out.

Me: No, but thanks for the advice!

Yeah, that will never happen.....


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Ears Heard You....

At our little preschool we have two raised gardens - one is for planting and one is for digging. The Planting Garden is where classes transplant their bean sprouts, plant seeds, and observe how cool it is to see what you plant actually grow. The Digging Garden, is for, well, digging. We put earth worms in the Digging Garden, as well as lady bugs. This year we have had a ton of pill bugs, and our miniature entomologists have been having a field day. The Digging Garden is also where Patton lives.

Well, we are almost to May, and all the students know the rules of the gardens. You dig in the Digging Garden and you simply observe in the Planting Garden - no digging and NO PULLING UP THE PLANTS. And since about January, everyone has pretty much accepted this rule, and abides by it as well. It has been easier to enforce because everyone is excited about the plants they have planted, and they don't want to pull them out.

Everyone except Lilly. For some reason, Lilly got it in her head this week that she was going to pull out all of the brand new sprouts in our Planting Garden. She was stopped twice by Mrs. D.. who reminded her of the rules. This, however did nothing to deter Lilly from her mission. As soon as Mrs. D. walked away, she resumed her task. I watched her get back to pulling and immediately reminded her (again) of the rules....

"Lilly, you may not pull the plants out of the garden. We planted these so we could watch them grow. You need to leave them alone. This is is the third time we have reminded you to stop pulling out the plants." For some reason, I always tell students how many times I have told them something. Like they are really interested that I keep score. This method doesn't work with my own kids, and the preschool kids really don't care either how many times I say something. They probably think I am just patting myself on the back. (Look how many times I can repeat the same thing. I rock.)

Lilly's response to my reprimand was to simply continue with what she was doing without even skipping a beat. She barely made eye contact.

Taken aback (I usually at least get eye contact), I changed my tone to be more "mom" in nature and I grabbed her hand as it was just about to yank out another innocent seedling. I got right down on her level, and then, I middle named her...

"Lilly Jane Davis, you MAY NOT pull out the plants!! These plants are NOT YOURS. Your friends planted these plants and you MAY NOT PULL THEM OUT!! You need to STOP RIGHT NOW! If you want to pull out plants, let's go pull weeds out of the other garden."

This time, Lilly looked at me, but went for another seedling anyway, with the hand that I was holding.

Exasperated, I just said, "Lilly!"

To which she responded, very matter-of-factly, "Mrs. Velarde, my ears heard you, but my hands haven't heard you yet."

What do you say to that???

Me? I just laughed, and carried her to another area of the playground. And then went and replanted what she had pulled out.

And, there is yet another instance where I have been outsmarted by a three year old.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't Worry, I Put it On Vibrate

Last summer, I ran over my cell phone. A rather silly story you can read about here. My husband pieced it back together for me, and even though it never worked again, it looked like it should. It had been sitting on my desk, useless, for months (I am not one to really ever put things away...) when it hit me that I could put the useless cell phone in my dramatic play center. The kids would probably like it. I wrote "Pretend phone" on the back of it and tossed it in to the center.

It didn't take them long to discover it. At first, they tried to return it. ("Mrs. V., some grown up lost a cell phone"), but when I told them it was for them to play with, the imaginations took off. Next thing I know they are calling me, calling each other, making appointments and texting. It was interesting how they were able to hold the phone in the proper texting position, and their thumbs would fly.

One morning, we were walking to music class (which is in a different room), and I saw one of my students pull the play cell phone out of his pocket and push a few buttons. When he saw me looking at him, he said, "Don't worry, I put it on vibrate." Well, good, I thought, at least it won't ring during class.

During class, as we were dancing around the room, the keeper of the phone suddenly stopped what he was doing, pulled the phone out of his pocket, and started pressing some buttons. He looked up and said to me, "That was just my dad, he texted me."

I said, "Did you tell him we were in music class?"

"Yes, I am going to call him back later."

And sure enough, later on the playground, I found him underneath the slide, "talking" to his dad on the broken cell phone.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You Belong in Preschool

This past weekend my family and I went camping with a group of friends. Correction - the friends were camping, my family and I met them at the campsite and spent the day. not a camper. Sleeping in a tent? On the ground? In the cold? With bugs? Um...not for this preschool teacher. Blegh.

Anyways, back to my story. Because it is such a small world, a family that attends the preschool was camping in this group we met up with, they were friends of friends, you know how it goes. I was interested to see how the little preschool student would react to seeing me there.

Because, preschoolers always get a little weirded out when they see their teachers outside of school. They are either terrified, or beyond excited. And if you look the slightest bit different, they quite possibly won't even recognize you.

Example: I was running in the park across the street from my house and playing in the park was one of my students. I was wearing my glasses (I wear contacts usually at school), a hat, workout clothes, and no make-up. I go up to this little girl to say, "Hi!". She took one look at me and screamed, "I DON"T KNOW YOU! GO AWAY!" and ran and hid behind her mother. This same little girl spent 45 minutes on my lap a mere three hours prior to this encounter. But outside of school sans make-up I went from beloved teacher to scary stranger. And this is pretty much how it goes.

So, at the campsite, I was wondering how little Sara was going to react. At first she didn't even give me a second glance. I was just another adult among many. An hour or so later she walked by, giving me the hairy could just see her brain working. A few hours in she walks up to me and just stood there.

Me: "Hi Sara!"

Sara: *glare*

Me: "Are you having fun?"

Sara: more glaring

Me: "Do you know who I am?"


Me: "But I am camping with you right now"

Sara: "Oh, ok. Could you tell Shawn to share his ball with me then?"

I am happy to report that Sara and Shawn worked things out, ball-wise, without my help.


Creating Static

As part of my unit on electricity, I decided to talk a little about static electricity as well. Static electricity is a fun concept, there are lots of experiments to demonstrate it in action. And while I had pages and pages of fun demonstrations, I wanted to at least introduce the some of the science behind it.

So, I did some research. As I read through the information, my brain slowly started to go to mush. If this stuff is boring me to tears, how will I explain it to a room full of young children? I started again, trying to figure out the key things I wanted to get across. Atoms (ok, we had talked about those); protons and neutrons (covered those, too); electrons (yep, also familiar territory); positive and negative charge (ack! what? my brain hurts).

I decided to touch on the very basic aspects of static electricity, using the terminology we had already touched on while talking about electricity. Using my atom diagram, I explained that sometimes when you rub two items together (I used a balloon on the carpet), the electrons from one item will jump to another item, causing it to have more electrons than it needs. Now these extra electrons need a place to go, and when the item with the extra electrons find another item with no extra electrons, the electrons will jump to the other item, making the other item stick to the first item. Ok - after all of that does your brain hurt?

As I blathered on, I used the balloon and the carpet. As I rubbed the balloon on the carpet, I explained how the balloon was getting extra electrons. Then I held the balloon over some scraps of tissue paper, and as the tissue paper jumped onto the balloon, I said, "Now the balloon is giving its extra electrons to the tissue paper." I demonstrated the same concept by sticking the balloon to the ceiling, to the wall, as well as holding the charged balloon over a child's head to make his hair stand on end. I eventually gave each child their own balloon, and they all rubbed it on the carpet to "get extra electrons", and then wandered around the room trying to figure out "where they could get rid of the extra electrons"..

To illustrate the concept of having too many electrons (and to toss in a little math), I brought out a simple balance and a bunch of milk bottle caps with the letter "E" on them. As I rubbed the balloon on the carpet, I added "electrons" to one side of the balance until it tipped to heavy side. "Now the balloon has too many electrons". As the tissue paper stuck to the balloon, I removed "electrons" from the heavy side of the balance, until the two sides were once again even. The kids then had a good time playing with the balance, and figuring out exactly how many electrons were too many. (Not being all that accurate of a balance, that number kept changing.)

We also played with static electricity using a plastic spoon and pepper...rub the spoon on carpet (getting extra electrons), then hold the spoon over the pepper (getting rid of the electrons), and the pepper jumps up to the spoon. Pretty cool.

There are a kajillion activities to illustrate static electricity. As this was my first time doing this, I chose only to touch lightly on this topic. Next year, I am thinking I will spend a little more time, and go a little deeper (positive and negative charges? possibly...). Possibly introduce magnets as a preview to static electricity. Now that I have tackled this topic, and that it was such a roaring success, I will do it again, and hopefully do it a little better.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Return of Patton

Our little preschool has a pet, a little desert tortoise named Patton. This little guy is on loan from Mrs. M's son, and he lives in our garden. The kids take great joy in watching him walk around the garden, feeding him lettuce, and being told "Look with your eyes, not with your hands!"

Last November, Patton went missing. Now, desert tortoises usually hibernate during the cold part of the year, and most of us assumed that Patton had simply dug himself a cozy place way down deep in the garden, and had settled down for his long winter's nap. But Mrs. M was worried...what if he had escaped? What if he was trying to make it on his own in the cold, cruel, world? How would she explain his absence to her son?

Mrs. M brought Mr. M to school, and the two of them dug around in the garden for hours, but their was no sign of Patton. Distraught, Mrs. M decided to tell her son that Patton is hibernating, and deal with the consequences later.

I, on the other hand, was confident Patton was in the garden somewhere. I helped install these gardens, unless he grew really long legs and walked away, or hired a backhoe and tunneled his way out, he was in that garden somewhere.

Months pass. The weather starts to warm up.

One sunny afternoon, Mrs. A and I were outside, sitting on the garden wall, when Mrs. A asks me, "So, do you think Patton will ever show up again?"

And, at that moment, right on cue, out pops Patton from the dirt! He was dirty, and hungry and thirsty, but seemed pretty happy to see us, and once again become the focus of lots and lots

(that's him right in the middle)

and LOTS of attention.


Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Electric!

This week my theme was Electricity. I have never taught Electricity before in preschool, so this was my beta test. Could I break the whole electricity thing down into concepts three and four year olds could grasp? Well, I was going to give it a try.

I had an electricity kit that I had received at my Steve Spangler Science in the Rockies conference last summer. The unit included a UFO ball, batteries, wires, single Christmas lights and a knife switch. Also included was a lot of information on how electricity does its thing.

To start, I decided to Google "electricity activities preschool". Not surprisingly, not a lot came up. All stuff regarding electricity is geared toward older kids. I did find a couple of cool examples of static electricity, so I decided I might want to figure out how to incorporate that too.

So, what do I want to get across to the kids? Hmmm...P=IV? No...How to measure amperage? No...How about just something as simple as why a light goes on and off. Ok, I started from there. I also wanted to talk about static electricity, and that would make a discussion of atoms necessary. Well? Why not? Using the Velcro Theory, I decided I would just toss a whole lot of information at them, and see how it went.

To introduce the topic, I asked the question, "What is electricity?" This stumped them, at first. Then a little boy pipes up, "Isn't what makes the lights go on?" "Yes! What else do you turn on?" And I got all kind of, computers, the Wii, my nightlight, the dishwasher...we were on the right track.

Then I asked. "What if we didn't have electricity?" A sea of blank faces. I try again, "Has the power ever gone off at your house during a storm?" (Summer monsoons knock the power off a couple of times every summer here). "When the power goes out, it means you have no electricity."

"I remember when the power went off! I couldn't watch TV, and my fan didn't turn on". This comment then sparked a discussion about what doesn't work without electricity. Everyone agreed that it was VERY dark at night with no electricity, but they liked holding flashlights.

I then read "Electricity". This book compares tasks that are done with and without electricity. Like sewing by hand versus using a sewing machine. Except my students had never seen either (with one exception), so at this point we went into a detailed discussion about how clothes are made. (I now have a sewing center in my classroom). This book sparked the idea for an experiment...would a wet paper towel dry faster hanging outside or inside with a blow dryer inside. Of course, the blow dryer method proved to be the most efficient.

Using electricity to dry the paper towel

To teach them the idea of an open circuit versus a closed circuit, I got out the Energy Ball, and had the class sit in a circle and join hands. I touched one side of the ball and the child next to me touched the other. As long as everyone was touching, the ball lit up and made noise. But if just one person let go of his friends hands, the Energy Ball shut off. Just like shutting off a light. The circuit is open when we are holding hands because the atoms are flowing around us. But if I let go of your hand, the atoms don't flow, and the ball shuts off. We experimented with touching different part of the body; the ball lit up when we all held hands, when we all touched each other's noses, and even when we touched each other's elbows. The kids figured out that as long as you were touching skin, the ball would light up. It didn't take them any time at all to figure this out on their own. Soon they were sitting in small groups, making "circuits" to light up the Energy Balls. (I had a few out)

Since I mentioned the word "atoms" in our discussion, I thought I would ask if anyone knew what an atom was? "It's a guy that lives in your neighborhood!" was the answer I got. While, that is true, I said, an atom is also a very, very, very, VERY, small part of everything we see, and it is also what helps make electricity. I showed them this picture ("Wow, that looks like science a little girl exclaimed when I held it up").

An atom is made up of three parts: neutrons, protons, and electrons. The neutrons and protons are in the middle, and the electrons are around the outside. I drew a atom on the board as I described it, and stuck on paper circles labeled with N's, P's and E's in the proper spot as I talked. The kids then had to go and make their own atoms, with N's and P's in the middle, and E's on the outside.

Throwing in a little bit of literacy with my science, I had dozens of paper circles in various colors labeled with "N", "P", or "E". I gave each student a blank atom on a handout (a circle in the middle of a couple of large ovals, the circle representing the nucleus, and ovals representing the path of the electrons.) The student had to identify the letter and place it in the proper spot of the atom. And, believe it or not, everyone of them did it!

Now it was time to actually make a circuit. Hmmmm.... First thing I did was connect the wires to the battery, the knife switch and a Christmas light, and then had the kids take turns turning off and on the switch. Then I removed the battery. "Why won't the light go on?" Everyone of them figured out pretty quick that it was the battery. Because, as I was told, EVERYTHING uses batteries.

So, I reconnected the battery, but didn't connect one of the wires. "Why won't the light go on?" This one was harder. They thought, and moved things around, when suddenly a little boy yells out, "They aren't holding hands!"

Me: "Huh?" ( I am generally pretty slow on the uptake)

Eric: "The light isn't going on because the atoms aren't going around because the wires aren't holding hands" He holds up the loose wire and shakes it at me. "This needs to be holding hands with the other wires!" Wow....he got it. He used the example of the Energy Ball and all of us holding hands and then letting go. And when I explained the concept to the rest of the class using that terminology, the rest of the class got it too.

I then constructed a circuit diagram using pictures* of the things we were using (as opposed to the scientific symbols) that illustrated the first circuit I created. After everyone had had a turn constructing the circuit, we rearranged the pictures creating different combinations of the components. It didn't take them very long to figure out what combinations worked and what didn't.

*(I downloaded actual pictures of the components we were using, laminated them and then hot-glued them to magnets, so we could construct circuits on my magnetic board)

During one of these demonstrations, my light didn't light up, even though it should have with the configuration we were building. I thought maybe my battery was dead, so I ran and got a couple of other batteries to test out. And another learning opportunity was born. What battery makes the light shine brighter? We ended up testing out all different sizes of batteries, and were amazed to discover that a bigger battery didn't necessarily mean a brighter light.

This ended up being a very successful and exciting unit. (I also touched on Static Electricity, that is the next post...). I think the kids really got a lot out of it. The week following this unit I set up an Electricity Center, where they could construct their own circuits and test batteries on their own. They absolutely loved it.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Santa vs. Trains

I haven't written for a few weeks - I actually stayed away from the computer for most of my winter break. Weird for me, but I did spend some good, quality time with my family.

But preschool is back in session, and so is my need to share it with you.

The day before school let out for break, we had a small Christmas celebration. We made cookies, had a small gift exchange, and most exciting of all, someone special came to pay a visit. A hint...he wears red and says, "Ho, ho ho!"

Santa has been coming to the school for years. Even though it is a busy time of year for him, he always makes sure he is able to pay our little preschool a visit.

I told my students of the planned visit a couple weeks in advance. I always like to feel them anyone scared of Santa? not know who Santa is? When I told the class "Santa will be coming to visit us in 14 more sleeps!", one little boy was almost speechless, with a smile that took over his whole face. He was so excited, it took him a couple of tries to get these words out, "Does that mean I won't have to wait in line forever to see Santa?" "Yep!" I replied. He was on cloud nine the rest of the day. When his mom arrived to pick him up, he informed her, "We don't need to go to the mall to see Santa, he will be at my school in 14 more sleeps!"

The day of Santa's visit, as a surprise to the boys in my class, I brought out the school's train collection to play with. Normally, I don't break out the trains until I do a Transportation unit, but there are several train enthusiasts in this year's group, and I thought it would be fun for them to play with the trains on their last day of the before break.

Big mistake.

The boys LOVED the trains. The immediately created a complex track system that covered the circle time rug, and developed complicated schedules for the trains to follow, as well as made buildings and villages along the tracks. But when Santa came in, booming, "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!" the boys didn't give him a second glance. "Santa's here? Oh, hey Santa. Look, we have trains!"

Santa didn't mind too much that he was being overshadowed by trains - I guess in his line of work this sort of thing happens a lot. But I had promised the kids' parents pictures with Santa, so I had to convince the boys to stop what they were doing and come talk to Santa. Which they all did, albeit reluctantly. And in each one of their pictures, instead of looking adoringly at the big guy in red, they are looking wistfully over their shoulders at the trains that are waiting for them to come back.

Note to year, bring out the trains AFTER Santa visits.