Environment as the Third Teacher

Did you see that early childhood environments made the New York Times (blogs)? The article sites research suggesting that commercially-purchased, busy bulletin boards and wall coverings are a waste of money for teachers. I think most of us know this, but it’s so hard to prioritize de-cluttering (visually, at least) our environments when so many resources are purchased by school districts or other people in our school systems with whom we may not be in regular contact. Here is another great article from NAEYC on setting up your environment, if you’re interested.

I’d love to share some end-of-the-year photos of our space, which I have tried to calm even since the beginning of the year set up, if you’d like to see. Can you see a difference? We at least replaced that huge, busy carpet with a plush navy one.

block center via provocations & play

We’ve been exploring ramps in our blocks center, and a DC high school’s carpentry program built us that amazing building platform.

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Ramp building in action.

hardware store via provocations & play

We went to the amazing hardware store down the street and created a hardware store, complete with tools, paint mixing and a key-making machine.

woodworking via provocations & play

Our hardware store visit sparked an interest in woodworking, something I’ve always wanted to try with my kids. We have a woodworking table in our science center. Those are kid-safe, low-temp glue guns, and I also bought a hand drill via Montessori Services. First we made “bird houses” for our community gardens, and then we started to design our own roller coasters after a few children visited Six Flags. Both Teacher Tom and NAEYC have some great articles about woodworking with young children, if you’re interested.

hair salon via provocations & play IMG_2228

Our dramatic play center, on the other side of blocks, is currently a hair salon, which has been a blast. It’s a favorite every year, but the kids didn’t even bring it up until last week (next week is our last week of school for the year). I’m glad they did :)

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Of course our art area has easels, a table to create with clay and a corner to explore light and shadow with an overhead projector and light table.

calm down space via provocations & play

Finally, our calm down center, or safe space, for children who need a break, want to be alone, or for some story telling :)

storytelling via provocations & play

 

 

 

the panda exhibit

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The children were showing an interest in pets, and we planned a field trip to Petco to tour the store and see my dog get groomed. We decided to also go to the National Zoo, though it would be cold. Prior to the trip, we talked about the indoor exhibits at the zoo, and the children voted on which exhibit they wanted to see. One of the children had already seen Bao Bao, the National Zoo’s panda cub, and excitedly talked about him.  We asked each child what he/she preferred, and tallied the results together. The children voted to visit the panda exhibit first, and then the reptile house. We were lucky to visit on such a cold day because there were so few people there, and we were able to watch Bao Bao, Mei Xing and Tian Tian for a while (which I mentioned here). I thought that this would lead to a conversation between which animals would make good pets and which would not, but the children had other interests…

A conversation before nap time:

Child: What is that dark thing?

Me: What dark thing?

Child (I noticed he was looking at a photograph from the zoo): See it? There by the panda?

Me: Oh that’s like a cave that the panda goes into. It’s called a den. Should we make one?

Child: YES!

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First we painted two large boxes black, and then compared the boxes against our photographs. We noticed that the real dens “were brown with rocks” on the outside, and then painted rocks on our dens.

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The giant pandas at the National Zoo are named Bao Bao, Mei Xing and Tian Tian. We labeled two of the dens for Bao Bao and Mei Xing. We pretended we were pandas, and that citiblocks were the rocks that Mei Xing often lays on and that PVC pipes were bamboo.

A child was pretending to be Mei Xing, laying on “rocks” and “eating” bamboo. She got upset because another child was playing with her bamboo.

Me: Can he be Bao Bao? What does Bao Bao do?

Child: She crawls just like Mei Xing but a little slower.

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I am very conflicted about the use of technology in the preschool classroom, and try to limit it as much as possible. The smart board in my classroom is hidden behind a shower curtain (and also is much too high for my children). However, we did watch the Smithsonian’s panda cam to make observations of Mei Xing and Bao Bao during centers, and they drew what they saw (or acted it out). We wondered out loud about the giant pandas, and kept a list of our questions. One child wondered if pandas had belly buttons. We made predictions and answered our questions using non-fiction texts (pandas do not have belly buttons, at least that we could see :).

My co-teacher and I went to see the amazing Lillian Katz last week, and I have been re-reading her book and reflecting on the project approach (here are some great tip sheets). This is the kind of child-directed learning that I love to do, and I hope by offering children more opportunities to make their thinking and learning visible, we can continue to learn together. I am finishing my first documentation panel of this learning adventure!