Get your engine running!
We often talk with children about how they are feeling, and how those feelings can affect their bodies. These "Zones of Regulation" are categorized by colors. The Blue Zone is when children are feeling sad, sick, tired, etc. and their bodies are moving slowly. The Yellow Zone is when a child is feeling frustrated or worried and their bodies are wiggly and losing some control. The Red Zone is when they are feeling mad, scared or yelling and their bodies are feeling out of control. Running outside can help bring someone in any of these zones get back into the Green Zone, where children are feeling happy, calm and ready to play. Some fun ways to talk with children about these zones are "blue blue, stuck in the goo," "yellow yellow, shaky like Jello," "red red, fire in my head," and finally "green green, great driving machine." Our goal that all children will eventually spend most of their day in the Green Zone. There are many other activities that are soothing and organizing for the children, such as swinging, chewing, being squeezed, deep breathing... different things work for different people at different times, and we are all finding out what works for us!
Sensory play can also help children to get their bodies running in the green. Sensory play incorporates the senses of touch, smell, movement, and even taste as a way to fully experience what they are doing.
Clay in pre-k!
As the children get older, their fine motor development is maturing. They have stronger finger muscles, and can work with both hands smoothly coordinating together to complete a task, such as getting dressed or holding a paper they are trying to cut. Not only that, but by pre-k, the children are more interested in what the other kids are doing than in getting the "most" of whatever material is available. These children worked with the clay individually for a while, chatting about how it felt to be covered in the goo (a sensory experience that not all of them enjoyed when they were younger!). Soon, they decided to create something together, a Clay Boy, which is a character from one of our scary stories. Friendships were solidified, fears conquered, and muscles got a workout, all in the first 20 minutes of the day!
One of the advantages of being in the program for two or three years is that the children use the materials differently at three years old than they do at five years old. For example, the magnatiles are often simply collected in the Tuesday/Thursday class. Children are moving from reaching for as many squares as possible to make the tallest stacks, to actually connecting them. Here, Owen and Lucas make a flat platform for airplanes. In the m/w/f class, children are beginning to build up successfully, though competing for certain pieces is still part of the process, as is resisting the urge to knock over someone else's work because that is fun to do before you realize it will make someone upset! Below, Theo is discovering that the large squares make a sturdy foundation, and he is about to add to the existing structure. By pre-k, the mastery over the material shows. We can see the incorporation of skills previously learned, the challenge of balancing the standing shape edges and the careful symmetry of the design.
Or shall we call it, sharing territory! This is a topic we will return to over and over because it is one of our goals for the children that they work on for the entirety of their time at school. In some programs, individual work space is clearly delineated by the adults. Each child will get the same amount, and identical tools, to do their individual work. At Peter's Place, we want to make sure that we always have a lot of whatever the material is, because we don't want to make waiting impossible, but we want the children to talk to each other about what they want (with adult facilitation, of course).
Aaron and Maeve are working side by side but not talking. This is parallel play. The teacher's role to to narrate and acknowledge that they are doing the same thing, to help them be aware of each other and notice that others enjoy doing the same things they enjoy. Ava and Theo both have an individual plan, but they are unhappy that neither has enough chips to fill the board. A teacher is there to help them talk it out, and to practice handling temporary disappointment. Charlie and Perry are actually talking to each other about what they can play together with these dogs, while Eileen is helping Jane and Ricky connect their ideas at the playdough table. Jasper, Theo and Jackson are working together to build a long snake with zoobs, but they have to figure out how to share the remaining pieces. Kale and Ellie are helping each other repair a broken section of the same snake. You can see from Kale's smile that he is appreciative to have help from a friend!
The pre-k children have had much experience sharing space, and have now figured out how to manage several buildings at once in a very limited area, and how to build using almost every block on the shelf! To do this you need complete control over your body, both to set the blocks up one by one in careful alignment, and to walk and sit in there without disturbing the other buildings. They also have the attention span it takes for a huge project!
While at the National Association for the Education of Young conference this month, many of the teachers attended a workshop by Deborah Hirschland, MSW . In the workshop, she presented the concept of "Popping Up" and "Tuning In." Popping Up and Tuning in is when you say a child's name, and they physically and/or verbally acknowledge that they are listening. This acknowledgment could be a verbal response of "what", "yes Rose," or a physical response when they stop playing and look at the speaker. This response is the "tuning in," where they are taking in what the speaker is saying. This is something that resonated with us, as we have noticed that many children are so involved in their play, they are not responding when approached by a classmate or teacher. We decided to actively work on this with the students in all three groups. One of the key factors we have been encouraging the children to do, is to say their friend's name, before they start talking to them.
Incorporating Natural Materials in Play
Children are drawn to the natural world around them. From investigating the effects of water on their wall of sand to watching the broccoli grow in the garden over days at a time. Bringing the outside into the classroom only further deepens this connection. Giving children the time, space and materials to further investigate what they have observed outside, increases their understanding and triggers more questions and investigations.
Placing the materials near areas of play and spark creativity and support imaginative and dramatic play as well.
When Writing Becomes a Part of the Play
Even though many young children cannot read, they are using writing and words to bring meaning to their play. From the simple add and stop save signs available when they want to come back to their work or invite others to join, to writing their name on their art when they are finished creating. Simply placing clip boards, paper, writing implements, or toys that simulate writing in areas of play can encourage and promote this interest.
Pre-k Choice Time Moments