Pick Me! Pick Me!!-The Schedule and Structure

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The programs structure and schedule- When I look at a program I like to see that there is a schedule. This provides predictability for the children. It also gives the parents a good snapshot of what their child is doing throughout the day. I also like to look at how the overall day is structured.

  • Free Play-When thinking about my dream program I would want to see plenty of time devoted to free play. I can almost hear the deep sighs of horror. Before you run screaming let me explain what I mean by free play. This does not mean the kids are running around cray. Free play means the teacher has planned a variety of activities for the children to choose from. So for example the teacher may have set up the magnatiles, allowed for the dramatic play area and sensory table to be opened. In addition, there may be play dough out on a table or access to the indoor easel and paints. The term “free” comes from the fact that the children will engage in these activities or areas with little to no direction or interruption from the teacher. This allows for independent choices on the part of the child and a chance for wonderful social interactions through cooperative play (I can see Vygotsky smiling down on this classroom). This allows for free exploration and self-paced learning. The children can use their own curiosity to drive their choices and interactions.
  • Outdoor Play-As you have read above and in my previous posts outdoor play is an absolute must have! I put it after free play because it is a great opportunity for children to take part in free play. Free play could be conducted in the classroom or outside. However, outdoor play can also be structured such as organized games or activities. However it is done outdoor play is a must! In todays world our children have a huge deficient in outdoor play. I am so passionate about this that I volunteered my husband to build a sandbox for my daughter’s PreK playground this year. We got Lowes to donate the sand and we supplied everything else. I wanted to make sure the kids had many different experiences on the playground. So outside play is a must have in any preschool setting.
  • Small Group-As important as large group time is for children it is also important to make time for small group interactions. The activities completed during small group require more individualized instruction. The children gain the benefit of working with the teacher but also interacting with their peers. Again, we see signs of Vygotsky’s cooperative learning taking place in small groups as well as peer tutoring.
  • Large Group-As a teacher large group time was always one of my favorites. It was always a time for us to come together as a classroom community. The children always loved to be together and share their own experiences and feelings. A very small portion of the overall day should be devoted to large group. In many classrooms you will hear it called “circle time”. The activities that you will see in circle time are music, fingerplays, group games, reading aloud, group discussion or even small lessons can be done during this time. My daughter’s class does this first thing in the morning. They do songs and dance, the weather, talk about who is at school and who is missing and read a story. At the end the teacher provides the choices for free play. This lasts maybe ten minutes. At the end of the day they meet for a very short time to talk about the day and dismiss by name. It is a chance to be together as a group but is short enough to keep the attention of the 3-5 year olds in the room.
  • Snack-in my dream program there would be a snack time or meal time of some kind. There is SO much that can be learned during the interactions at the table. Children learn so many valuable social skills through the interactions at the table with their peers. As a teacher my favorite conversations took place at the table over food. Ideally the snacks would be healthy food choices for the children. I cringe each day when my kids come home and tell me about the pop tarts or chocolate cereal they were given for their morning snack.

Pick Me! Pick ME! Choosing the Right Preschool-The Environment

The Classroom Environment

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Each semester I teach a course that includes a classroom design assignment. In the beginning I do a small imagination activity with my students. I tell them “Close your eyes, and start to imagine. What would your dream classroom look like? What colors would you use to paint and decorate? What type of furniture would you include? What would be the arrangement of your room? Imagine the types of manipulatives and centers you would have.” I tell them to visualize this classroom see it, smell it, feel it make it real in their minds. We imagine for a few minutes and then they design it using a graphic design program. The following list is my “dream” list, it is the program I see when I close my eyes. It is a “dream” list because most likely you will not find a program that encompasses everything on the list. This doesn’t mean the program isn’t a good one. I have seen high quality programs who have not hit every item on my dream list. These are just my “dream” characteristics and are great characteristics to look for when choosing a program.

When you walk into my ideal preschool it needs to be inviting, this is nonnegotiable! This doesn’t mean fancy, it means you feel welcome when you walk in. The classroom needs to be child-centered, again a must! The room needs to be bright and print rich with children’s artwork displayed, at their level. The room needs to be welcoming to your child and well organized so that the individual activities are distinguishable. I realize not all preschools have loads of room or endless budgets. This is a very important reason for room organization.

My ideal room would include the following areas:

  1. Dramatic Play- This area is usually dominated by a kitchen set. There is so much learning that takes place in this area. Language and social skills blossom in the dramatic play area. In addition, we see the development of problem-solving and symbolic thinking. All of these skills form the foundation for future academic success. This area would ideally change periodically. I have seen programs that have prop boxes that they change in and out. My daughter’s dramatic play area changes every few weeks with the project they are focusing on.
  2. Art (indoor/outdoor)- Ideally a few art easels would be seen here. In addition a table with materials to encourage creativity. This area would have certain staples that would remain on a daily basis. There would also be art media that would change periodically. The encouragement of art here is preferred and not so many ready made or modeled crafts. I would also like to see art carried outside with items like outdoor paints and chalk. We have an outdoor easel made of plexi glass for our kids in our backyard.
  3. Sensory Exploration- I have an obsession with sensory tables. I love mixing up gag or cloud dough to put in ours. I had my husband build one for our kids before my daughter could even stand. I was so excited to start using it with her. It doesn’t have to be fancy it can be homemade or an expensive one ordered through a magazine. The important part is it allows kids to dig and get dirty and use their senses. Ideally again the media should be switched out.
  4. Large Motor Area- This area will include large blocks and other construction type materials. So ideally it would be an open area where kids can build and move around. This area could include multiple types of large blocks, marble tracks, car or train tracks, etc. In my daughter’s classroom this area doubles as their circle time rug where they do stretches or dance as well.
  5. Small Manipulatives- This area would be devoted to smaller manipulatives such as magnatiles or legos or smaller blocks, puzzles, lacing beads, and my favorite play dough. The manipulatives in this area should promote fine motor development. Again they need to be changed out periodically. I like to see a small rug space and also a table for working. A shelf for storing bins is also very helpful!!
  6. Writing Area- This maybe an area you wouldn’t consider in a preschool classroom as many of them are not yet writing. However, we need to look at the formation or pre-writing skills and writing skills for those little ones who are developing that skill. It should include writing supplies. These could include notebooks, cards, clipboards, pencils, crayons, envelopes, etc. This is one of my daughter’s favorite centers. She loves writing letters and cards to people. Writing should be encouraged throughout the rest of the classroom in the other center. For example, when my daughter’s classroom did a project on the bakery they turned their dramatic play area into a bakery where they would make lists and take order on notepads. We also do a journal entry with our kids at drop off each day.
  7. Reading Area- This area should include a book shelf, where the books are switched out. It needs to be a welcoming area where the children want to be. This would have soft seating for the kids to get comfortable as they read. The children should have many opportunities throughout the day to be read to. In my daughter’s classroom the parents read at drop off. Then they have large group reading and throughout the day one on one reading time. This is ideal! However, the children should also have access to the books throughout the day to read individually.
  8. A Place to be Alone- This area should be a quiet area where the kids can go if they need some “me” time to relax or regroup. My daughter’s classroom added this last year and I was so happy to see it implemented. Their social/emotional specialist worked with the kids all year to recognize their feelings and she showed them how to use this area. I have seen many great examples of what this could look like. I have seen small tents or areas that are partitioned off. Ideally it should be separated from the rest of the class. It should be comfortable and quiet. We all need a place to go and recharge sometimes and kids are no different.
  9. Outside-This is another of my favorite areas. There needs to be a devoted outside area for the children. The playground needs to be safe but a natural rough play area is ideal. Most playgrounds are going to have the big plastic slides and swings. These are great don’t get me wrong but ideally I would like to see dirt, trees, sandboxes, a garden, etc. Last year I had my husband build two sandboxes to donate to our children’s school. An outdoor kitchen or dramatic play area would be ideal in addition to an outdoor sensory table and art area.

Pick Me, Pick Me, Choosing the Right Preschool

 

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Last week I made a quick run into Wal-Mart to pick up some things. The last time I had been there the front of the store was full of fun summer pools and rafts.  As I walked through the door I was hit with the school bus yellow billboards and signs for back to school supplies. My first thought was “oh my goodness it’s not even August, way to ruin summer Wal-Mart.” This was soon replaced by that excitement of starting a new year. I have an obsession with school supplies! So the thought of stocking up was very appealing, dang those marketing geniuses! I also love the thrill of a new school year. A clean slate, a world of possibilities waiting, all you need is a shiny new backpack to take part, oh and don’t forget the matching lunchbox. I have heard this time of year referred to as the second New Year. It is a chance for us to start clean. There is a marked increase in gym activity and resolutions as parents send their kids off to a fresh new school year and try to revive some of their goals as well.

This got me thinking about my little ones. Both will be heading off to Pre School this year, I’m already fighting back the tears as I send my baby for his first year! I am often asked how to choose the best preschool, what do you look for? How do you know it’s the right fit? For us it was simple we have very few options to choose from. However, in many areas of the country parents are overwhelmed with the choices. They are bombarded with brochures and flyers and encouraged to attend large Pre School fairs in which the local Pre Schools advertise and try to win their registration. Do I pick Reggio, Montessori, High Scope, or stick with a public school option? Do I go with a cheaper option or take out a second mortgage to pay the tuition? These options can be overwhelming for anyone!!

Let me be the first to tell you the “perfect” preschool does not exist. Your “perfect” preschool however does. What do I mean by this? For you a certain preschool might be ideal where as your neighbor down the street may not find it is the right pick for her child. Each family’s needs and child’s needs are different. So there is not a perfect equation for finding the “perfect” preschool. I can give you tips and what I look for. However, in the end you have to decide what is best for your family and your child. You have to trust those mommy instincts. You have to find that one place where you and the child feel comfortable. A preschool where you can walk away each day and feel 100% confident leaving your little one behind.

My number one priority is that it is a play based preschool program. Over the next few days I will be sharing the characteristics I look for in a preschool program. Today we will start with how the preschool program fits your needs as a family.

How does the program fit your family’s needs

We all have hectic lives and therefore a preschool program needs to fit into those lives. Before you pick a program you need to stop and think about how that program will fit into your daily routine. For example, our preschool program is only 2.5 hours a day. This could be a working mom/dad’s nightmare trying to run back and forth that often. We lucked out and our amazing babysitter can do the pick-up on days we can’t. However, for many families a full day program would be a better option. I always advice families to ask themselves:

  1. Is the location of the preschool close to our home/babysitter/workplace or does this make a difference?
  2. Do you need a before or after school program and is one provided?
  3. What are the volunteer or parent participation requirements and do those fit your schedule.

Teaching Hard Ideas with Children’s Literature

 

It’s no secret that I have a slight, OK serious obsession with children’s literature. I LOVE children’s books!! I took every children’s and young adult literature course I could in college. I had a huge children’s book library before I even had children. I now buy books for my kids, but secretly I am just as excited for these books as they are.

I have always been an avid reader. When I became a teacher I wanted to pass on this passion to the children I taught. I devoured books like The Book Whisperer  that gave strategies for encouraging children to read. Now as a parent I have the same desire to pass on this addiction. As a teacher every lesson plan I planned always had a book to go with it. When we pulled out all the playground riding toys and cars for a car wash we first read The Scrubbly Bubbly Car Wash. Any lesson had to have a corresponding book to help bring the lesson home. Now as a parent we spend a huge portion of our day reading. My favorite time of day is after baths and dinner are done. My kids smell sweet and are all cozy in their jammies. We snuggled on the couch and plow through a giant pile of books that we all have added our favorites to.

So when I saw this article Green Eggs, Ham and Metaphysics: Teaching Hard Ideas With Children’s Books I was of course intrigued. The article begins with this statement “What is language? What is beauty? Who gets to decide? Philosophers have grappled with these questions for centuries, and they’ve generated a pile of long (and often tortured) books in their efforts to answer them. But for Tom Wartenberg, some of the best books about philosophy are much shorter and a lot more colorful: Frog and Toad Are Friends. Horton Hears a Who! The Paper Bag Princess”.

The author discusses using books to teach hard concepts. The author provides a list of questions to accompany various books to help get the conversation started. I love this idea!! Book can be used to teach academic concepts such as math or science. However, books can also be used to teach harder social/emotional concepts as well.

Recently my son has been stomping his feet when he gets angry. This is a new three year old move he has learned. We have used guidance and talked to him about how it’s ok to be mad and to have those feelings but that we have to show them in different ways and not stomp or throw toys. He hasn’t caught on to this idea very quickly and it is a constant battle in our house. So a few weeks ago I saw a book titled Mouse was Mad. I fell in love and instantly thought of my son. In the book Mouse is mad and stomps his feet and hops up and down and through the help of his friends he learns to handle his feelings better. He learns that by standing still and taking deep breaths he soon does not feel mad anymore. This is a method we had successfully taught our daughter. Until my son saw it in the book and could relate to what mouse was doing he couldn’t grasp this concept. Now when he gets mad we ask “are you going to be like bear or are you going to be like mouse”? He will stop and think and start taking deep breaths. This book helped teach him this hard concept.

Below is a list of books that I have found to be great for teaching such hard concepts. Happy reading!!!

Book List

Emotions
Mouse was Mad
When readers meet Mouse, he is furious. First he is “hopping mad,” but expert Hare informs him that he is not hopping properly and shows him the correct moves. On the animated spreads that follow, Bear, Bobcat, and Hedgehog demonstrate how to be “stomping,” “screaming,” and “rolling-around-on-the ground” mad. However, each time Mouse tries to imitate them, he finds himself sprawled in a mud puddle. It is not until he is “standing-still mad” and none of the others can best his motionless stance that he begins to feel better. Through playful language and expressive watercolors with colored pencil and ink, this story about anger management proves to be both entertaining and therapeutic.
 Math
Quack and Count
Slip, slide, leap, and dive with a family of seven lively ducklings as they get ready to fly for the very first time. Keith Baker’s playful, rhyming text and bold collage illustrations capture the excitement of a day’s adventures–and gently introduce counting.

 

Fall Is In The Air

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When the weather is nice each day the kids and I take a walk in the woods near our house. We are lucky enough to have woods and pasture near us to give us plenty of opportunity to explore. Today when we started out we had to put on sweatshirts and this is the sight that greeted us as we headed down the step lane. Fall is in the air!! I have to say fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Anne of Green Gable had it right when she said she would hate to live in a world without October. October brings a cool chill to the air in our part of the county which means sweatshirts, bon fires, leaves covering the ground, our local college football team is in full force and of course fall comfort foods. The kids and I have been experimenting with pumpkins over the past few weeks. We made a stew in a pumpkin a week ago that was amazing!! We are baking like crazy! Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, the list goes on and on. Have I mentioned I love this time of year? So in honor of fall and all the yummy food we have baking/cooking at our house I will be sharing our favorite fall recipes so you can maybe try them in your homes. Happy October!!!!

Greek Yogurt Panckaes

We are all about pancakes in our house. The kids love any type of pancake that they can get their little fingers on, especially if it is topped with pure maple syrup and Greek yogurt. A little while back I posted a recipe that we like for Greek Yogurt Pancakes. Since then I have been tweaking it a bit and have come up with a better version, it’s a little thicker and easier to work with. This recipe also freezes well for quick weekday morning breakfasts.

Greek Yogurt Pancakes

3 cups of flour, we use white wheat flour but any will do

4 teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons of pure maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon salt

4 Tablespoons oil

4 eggs

2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 1/2 cups of Greek yogurt

1 1/2 cups of milk, we used whole milk but any would work

Preparation:

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients

2. In a separate bowl mix together the wet ingredients

3. Slowly mix together the wet and dry ingredients until well combined

4. Preheat a pan or griddle to medium high heat

5. Grease the pan with butter and scoop out a large spoonful of batter onto the pan. Cook on both sides until golden brown.

6. To freeze lay cooled pancakes out on a cookie sheet and flash freeze for thirty minutes. Drop down in a labeled ziplock bag. To reheat toss in the microwave for about a minute until warm.

Freezing Garden Veggies

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We harvested our first tomatoes from our family garden this week. By harvested I mean the kids and I picked the four regular tomatoes and the 8 cherry tomatoes. My son ate all the cherry tomatoes before we made it back to the house. Unfortunately our garden this year is struggling. We have had SO much rain that all the gardens in the area are struggling. We are also still smack in the middle of our house renovation. This means we are spending out days covered in dry wall dust and paint. So our garden has suffered. It is so hard to neglect it!! Our garden is usually so pretty and makes a great backdrop for summer.

So with our struggling garden we are not going to get a big crop this year. Luckily we live in farm country. This means that everyone we know has gardens. Lucky for us everyone else around is not in the middle of an endless renovation and so their gardens are doing a bit better then ours. This means that every few days someone shows up with produce or anytime we stop by a friend or neighbors house they send us home with produce.

The tricky part with all the unpredictable produce is that I want to be able to can it all and preserve it so this winter when we are hopefully in our new house we can enjoy homegrown produce. Right now we have tomatoes, squash and peppers showing up. I was trying to figure out how to save all this produce so that I can make spaghetti sauce and salsa later. We get it in such small amounts that it’s not enough to do anything with.

So what’s the solution you might ask? Well freeze it of course!! Yes, you heard me right freeze your peppers and tomatoes. You can also freeze your squash and zucchini. I have been doing this for years. I grate it and then put it in freezer bags and pull it out throughout the year to make zucchini breads or muffins. However, I have never attempted tomatoes or peppers. This is the perfect solution though. It allows me to freeze the produce and then pull it out when I have enough to make salsa or sauces. So I gave it a try today and it is super easy!! I am linking in a YouTube video that I found that walks you through step by step how to do it. Below that video is a Martha Steward video. Yes Martha Stewart, don’t hate me!! I have to admit when I was in my early 20’s and just learning to cook on my own Martha Steward was my go to lady. I still have a box in the barn full of old Martha Steward Living magazines. Don’t judge I know she can be a bit snooty at times but that lady knows her stuff! OK maybe she and her staff know their stuff but either way she passing it on for out benefit.

I really like this video there are some helpful tips and I like that he flash freezes his tomatoes first. I really believe flash freezing is the key to freezing any foods.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuLpLp_5G0E

Here’s the Martha Steward video. She shows us and this poor farmer she has on her show how to freeze corn and tomatoes. Being from the Midwest we always have plenty of corn to freeze!! I actually love the idea she provides for using the bunt pan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07qe27TtXbI