A Place to Connect Teachers and Support Children

Archive for May, 2011

Word Wall

Have you ever thought of adding a word wall in preschool?  Have you felt discouraged?  What went wrong? We want to know!! Please post and share your frustrations with us!

Our center feels that a literacy-rich classroom is important.  In my upbringing, reading and literacy was highly stressed and something our family did together for fun.  I can remember my mom taking my brother and I to the library with a wagon which we would fill to the brim. We would spend a week with these book reading and re-reading the text.  I think this began and fostered my love of writing and reading!  As I grew older, I began to encourage and (hopefully!) instil the love of learning to my children in my classroom.

We use the ECERS (Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale) and the NAEYC guidelines as a guide to how we present writing and literacy in the classroom.  Each center in our classroom has writing materials of some kind.  Some materials we have include:

  • magna doodles
  • chalk boards
  • marker boards
  • different sizes of paper
  • small stenos
  • small notebooks
  • markers
  • crayons
  • pens
  • colored pencils

Those are just some ideas!  Our literacy-rich classroom includes books, labels on the children’s cubbies, labels on the shelves, writing to caption pictures, children’s writing, and group writing pieces. As a result of our classroom, children’s interests, and teacher guidance, we have children who were interested in writing and reading. 

In the past, we had created a word wall creating each letter and putting words that correspond with that letter underneath.  Although may children used it, it also became distracting for children who believed that each letter needed a word below it.  We then moved to a word wall which was located in group.  We just put the words that we used frequently in our tree project (leaves, bark, Oak, roots, etc) in columns on our back wall.  The children used this much more frequently!  They started to label their sketches, create their own dictionary (we created one for our classroom one year), and identify letters or letter sounds.

Collaborative Tree

The children had been very interested in sketching, labeling, and document their learning since the beginning of the tree project.  A child suggested to create a tree all together.  I began to sketch the outline of the tree and the children would share what parts I would need to add next including the size of lines and the parts of the tree.  The children then began to take control of the activity by creating their own parts of the tree and then creating their own labels.  As a teacher, it is often hard to back up and let the children take control but I feel it is vital when you are viewing the children as confident and capable!  The children were able to collaboratively sound out the words by asking older peers for assistance, asking peers for what details to add, and adding each piece in the appropriate location! 

This week my challenge to you this week is…

Empower the children in a way you never have before!  Offer children the opportunity to discuss a situation and work out a solution, let the children fill their own cups of juice, let the children crack an egg, and/or let the children pick the next project.  Share your challenges with us and we will help support you! 

Can’t wait to hear how you challenged yourself this week!


Tree walk

We had an opportunity to go on a walk with a parent. This was our first walk of the season so the children began to create rules for the expectations of our walk. In their rules and directions, they decided to bring one bag for litter pick up and one for the collection of tree items to investigate.  Upon our return, we had collected a whole container full of nature items which included items such as acorns, bark, branches, twigs, leaves, and pinecones.

In the afternoon, several children began to represent what they had seen on our walk.  One child added paper towel rolls around the pole in our room which we had transformed into a tree.  “I saw the roots by the tree.  Over the grass.  Like this,” he said as he added the rolls to the base of the pole. 

Another child represented another part of our walk.  He cut open a bag that had been holding our oranges from snack.  He then wrapped it around the tree.  “I saw this on a tree.  My friend told me it protects the tree.”

Nature can be added to your treasure chest or as in our room, we have to separate containers.  To learn more about the treasure chest, check out the Coconut Tree post.  We also use the nature items we brought in to sort and classify them, create patterns, use them for a scavenger hunt, count or add them, or as we did after our walk, create mobiles.

We began with sketching our ideas for our mobiles.  The children labeled and created their “plan” of what materials they would need and how they would set it up.  They then started and created mobiles which we currently have hanging in our classroom. 

To make your own mobiles in your classroom:

  • take small steps
  • view the children as capable and confident
  • gather items for the mobile
  • create the plans
  • offer children the opportunity to continue to work on these for several days
  • give the children an opportunity for trial and error
  • support the children

Enjoy the beautiful weather!


Apples, Apples, Everywhere

The next kind of tree we heard the children discussing where apple trees.  The children shared their personal experiences about trees by making small apple trees.  They used tan colored paper to wrap the poles of our loft.  They then added red circles to the paper to represent an apple.  One child created a three dimensional apple using model magic and a pipe cleaner as the stem.

The children investigated three types of apples including red, green, and yellow.  The children had an opportunity to cut the apple if they would like and they were able to taste test them. After the tasting was over, the children created a graph to compare and document observations of the tree kinds of apples.  After the list was done, the children signed their names on the sign to identify which was their favorite apple.  A day later, a child decided to create her own survey on the apple tasting.  She created four different apples, red, green, yellow, and brown.  She remembered that brown was not a color of an apple they tried so she crossed it out.  She then went around to each child in the classroom asking them their favorite kind of apple.  When she was done, she counted up each vote and found out which had more and which had less.  This took so many skills in this one activity!  She met many of our objectives from the Peoria Pre-Primary Curriculum, here are a few:

  • showing beginning control of a writing or art utensil
  • writing words for work and play
  • beginning to show comfort with self as someone growing in skills and abilities
  • shows interest in quantity and number

After the investigation of the apple tree was over, a child decided that we needed to re-create the apple trees to be more accurate. They found a tree book called, How does an Apple Grow?  With the book near her, she created a list of items she needed to gather to create this tree.  With the help of her peers and a teacher, she sounded out each word and created a list.  She then gathered the materials to begin to create this new tree.  The children used tan paper but also colored various shades of brown on the tan paper.  One child shared, “not all trees are the exact color brown!”   They then cut green leaves to add to the apple tree to represent a Spring Tree.  They then created three dimensional apples by painting lids red and stuffing them with fluff or taping them together.

As a teacher, you can help support this survery or collaborative work by:

  • modeling
  • supporting the children
  • taking baby steps
  • thinking out loud with the children

It will take time to begin to make this a classroom norm, but soon it will just be another way to investigate and discovery.  The children will begin to lead these surveys without any teacher guidance! 

Until next time,



The children have started to ask questions about what types of food grow on trees and what types of food grow on bushes.  They began asking questions about olives.  I shared with the children that my parents own olive trees.  A huge discussion began!  The children wanted to know what they looked like and we began to look for pictures on the computer.  We started to talk about the personal experiences the children have had with different types of Olives.

We began with the Kalamata (Greek) Olives.  The children had the opportunity to explore the olives.  They children used rulers to measure the size of each olive.  Kara introduced an Olive Pitter and the children had an opportunity to use it.  They then began to sketch, investigate, and discuss the attributes of the pit and the olives.  Some children wanted to taste them and they had the opportunity.  None of the children liked the taste.

Several children then began to weigh olives that have pits and ones that did not.  Elisabeth (4.6) creates a graph for her information.  Each side is labeled, “heavy” and “not heavy.”  She then begins to weigh the olives.   She tells her friends that the heavy side of the scale is the one that tips and touches the base of the scale.  She then counts the olives in that tray.  She documents that answer until her paper is full of data.

The days following the Greek olive investigation the children investigated green and black olives.  The children created a Venn diagram comparing the two kinds of olives.  The children tried these as well.  Most of the children liked the black olives and only two liked the green olives.

We continue to investigate…Will you?


Making Paper

The children have been very interested in the book,  From Tree to Paper.  The book outlines how paper is made from a tree, the process it goes through, and all of the items that are made from trees or tree products.  After investigating what grows in our trees, the children began to show some interest about how the tree is used for other means.  Kara spent a week on reading the story in detail and learning more about how paper is made.
The children spent the first day  tearing paper into small pieces.  Each child had the opportunity to participate and encouraged to make the pieces as small as possible.  The children used fine motor skills to tear large pieces of paper into inch pieces.  The younger children helped by tearing their pieces and offering them to older peers to make them small enough for the mixture.  The children then began to add water and cornstarch to the mixture.  As the children put their hands in this mixture they began to share their observations which included:
  • “It is really mushy!”
  • “It feels wet and cold!”
  • “The paper doesn’t crinkle anymore!”

The following day, the children used a blender to mix the ingredients into a smaller pieces.  They added more water until the consistency of the ingredients were very watery.  Each time a new set of paper was blended it was added to the bucket.›The children used tulle that fit tightly into a circular shape.  The directions are below.

  1. ›The children dipped the tool  into the mixture.
  2.  They pull the tool out of the water.
  3. ›They then sponged off excess water.
  4. ›They added pine needles.
  5. ›Then saved it to dry.

The following day, we investigated the paper.  The children then decided they’d like to see if they could make different colors of paper.  They had determined that the reason the first paper was a brownish color was because we had used newspapers.  The children went with Kara in our storage room and picked out various colors of paper.  They began to tear one color for the mixture and were excited that their predictions were right!  If you use red recycled paper, your paper will turn red!

In your classroom:

  • don’t be afraid to start small
  • don’t be afraid to get dirty
  • invest the children’s help in clean-up
  • plan ahead!

Try an experiment and let us know how it worked!


Brad’s Visit

During each project, we ask an expert to come in or we go visit them in their work place.  We pick these experts very carefully and we talk to them about project work so they are prepared for what we will be doing, asking, and participating in when we are with them. We begin the process of finding an expert by asking our families first!   Often times the best expert or connection is made through our families!!  As we start a project, we start to think of possibilities or avenues we can go down to find an expert or a place to visit.  This is unlike the “traditional” field trip that is seen in the upper elementary schools.  We prepare the expert by offering them the questions we have created, tell them about what our children have already learned and their age group, offer them an overview of project work, and what a typical expert visit looks like.  This would include explaining that we want the children to ask questions, create sketches of their materials, and use child friendly language.  We ask the expert to join us in the traditional clothing of the specific job if possible.

Brad Visits the Leapfrogs

Brad was a parent of one of our children.  He had gone to school to study horticulture and was excited and willingly to share his knowledge!  He began by introducing himself and telling children about his passion.  He then began to answer questions of the children.  We helped get the children started by going over our web of questions that we had prepared previously. The children then began to be more comfortable and started to ask more questions!  We asked each question off the web and the answer was documented directly off the web.  Brad was apprehensive to bring in his tools as they were dangerous for our age group.  He decided to sketch a picture of each of the tools he used based on the children’s questions.  Typically, we would ask the “expert” to bring in any clothing and items that he would use to perform his job.  We would then take the opportunity to sketch the items that the expert brought in. 

With two teachers in the room, Kara and I split up tasks during this time.  We are supporting children by using tracking statements to support their learning , encouraging children by talking about what they see, helping children label or document their thoughts, and taking TONS of pictures.  Often times, we like to video a speaker so we can return to the information later.  When Kara and I are photographing, we are making sure to photograph picture of the children engaged in their work, taking pictures of the actual objects being shown (vest, sheers, saw), and the speaker.  We are then able to go back to these pictures to create more sketching, label the items in the pictures, and to form representations of the objects that we had seen with materials in our treasure chest.

In Brad’s visit, he began with introducing himself.  He then answered all of our questions from our question web.  As the children took in his information and thought of more questions, he spent some time sharing what he had brought.  He also showed us several pictures of trees including Evergreen Trees, Oak Trees, and Maple Trees.   He also showed us the biggest trees in the United States, different types of pine cones, and drew us pictures of the tools he used.

Later that day, we spent time going over each question that we had on our web and answering based on our interview of our expert.  Several children spent time making representations from his visit including sketches, labeled drawings, and three-dimensional representations made in clay, with recycled materials, and in model magic.

Grace sketches how a tree grows.

In a classroom setting or a home-school setting, taking time to visit the expert or the facility in which you are studying is important!  It offers children the opportunity and empowers the children to ask questions and learn!  They are able to take a front seat to their learning which as an adult, I learn so much more when I am in the driver’s seat and not stuck along for the ride! 

Enjoy the ride!


Evergreen Trees

With any project, we immerse ourselves in the project and provide the children with as many opportunities as possible to explore items, sketch, represent, discuss, and learn new vocabulary.  The Tree project was no different.  We are fortunate to have an outdoor place space, which the children and families have named the Beehive,  be a certified Nature Explore classroom (for more information check out arborday.org).  After the holidays, we ask families to donate their evergreen trees so that we can add them to our playground.  We had the opportunity to explore these trees both in and outdoors. 

While indoors, we spent time using magnifying glasses and looking at the pine needles up close.  We created lists of our observations several days before even begin to sketch.  Some of the children added words such as:

  • prickly
  • rough
  • smelly
  • pine
  • green

We then began to sketch what we were noticing.  Since we have been spending time creating lists about the characteristics of the item we are sketching we have noticed more detailed sketches.  The first time we tried this technique, our children wanted to sketch right away.  We talked about the importance of observing and that sometimes you notice things you did not know if you continue to observe.  The second time we tried the activity, the children asked to sketch on the second day of observation.  After continuing the technique for several weeks, some of our older children are beginning to create their own lists of characteristics with friends!

You can create observation lists with the children in your classroom!  Begin with an item of interest (preferably project or nature based).  Set the item out and tell children you would like to create a list of items.  Model by making the first statement and encourage children to share.  The very first time may not turn out as anticipated but have faith!  Once you try it, share with us!   We’d love to hear your success and what we can do to help!

Continue observing…


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