Sunday, August 25, 2013

Our Room: Recreating an Environment that Supports Learning Through Exploration

This year as I was putting my room together, I tried to think of how I can create areas that will provoke kids to explore and investigate further.  I know that rather than take away their play like we are being pressured to do, they need more play.  What is play other than exploring?  For this to be beneficial, I need to set out and make available areas and materials that are attractive and interesting for them to explore!  Here are a few areas of my room that I am hoping will catch their interests and imaginations!

This is our Home Living Area.  It may start out looking like this, but I am hoping that the kids will take it into different directions as the year goes on such as pizza parlor, bakery, post office, etc! I can't wait to see what goes on here.  I know there will be many literacy and math opportunities as well as social skills that will be incorporated in ways they are used in real life situations. True, authentic learning!


The art pieces in the home living area were created by my kids last year.  I love using things created by previous classes!


Next is the Engineering Area.  This is where they will create structures using materials provided. For now only blocks are available. 

After they prove to me that they can take care of the blocks and use them appropriately, I will add more items such as loose parts, Legos, K'nex, ramps, small animals, cars, real tools, scrap wood, etc (though not all at the same time!).  I also plan on adding pictures of structures such as bridges and buildings for inspiration! The clip boards are for them to create plans or record what they made.

This next area (for now) is for building using natural materials such as natural tree blocks, geodes, rocks, tree cookies, pebbles, etc.  At some point these may join with the engineering area but for now I will have them explore these materials separate.


Clip boards and pencils will be added to this area as well to create plans or record what they made.

This is our art studio.

On top of the shelves by the window, there is clay with natural materials to create sculptures and work those fine motor muscles. 


Below is a small area to explore sea shells and sea life.  I will add some books to it also.  If a lot of interest is shown, I will move it to a larger area such as the science table.

This is our writing area. Paper, booklets and writing/drawing utensils can all be found here.


This next picture shows our area to store materials the kids can use for learning literacy and math skills during our Thinking and Learning time. There is a mixture of natural elements, recycled items such as old buttons, and materials provided by the school. The books above will be labeled as numbers/ counting, shapes, and measurement.

This is our listening station. I am in the process of looking for a plant to put behind the small easel and sheers to go around this station to make it more homey and a quiet space.

Our science shelves in the photo below will change as the year goes on, depending on their interests or things that we find that may interest them! At the moment, I have items to provoke them into exploring the five senses! Books about the five senses and clip boards to record what they notice are on the shelf below. 

This next photo is our Science Table.  This will also change throughout the year and will integrate art, literacy and math very heavily.
 At the moment I have the beginnings of a color provocation set out. More color experiences will be added if they prove they can respect the limited amount of materials presented.

Here are some more pictures of my room.  I am still trying to create a more Reggio environment. I get frustrated by the brightly colored chairs and tile!  What I wouldn't do for a wood floor!  Besides the art and projects displayed created by past students, the room is a blank slate ready for the kids to create and display their own.  I can't wait to see what they decide to explore this year!






This last picture is my reading area. It is one space in my room I am not happy with! I know I need something on the door, preferably made by the kids, but I am not sure how to make this space cozy yet still be able to get into my storage room!  I would love any suggestions to help this area out!

I hope you enjoyed the tour of my room! I know it will change as the year goes on.  Hopefully this environment inspires the kids and encourages them to explore and investigate!















Saturday, August 17, 2013

Making More Time for Play: A Look At My Daily Schedule

Many of you have been asking me about what my day looks like and how I can fit all of the curriculum in while having time for our inquiries and projects. Here is what I am planning on our day looking like. I am sure my schedule won't look like this right away, but this is what I will be working towards!

Last year when I let go of dictating what the children explored, I noticed that all of our inquiries stemmed from experiences that happened in our school environment. The visiting orchestra prompted an investigation about music. Fall and a trip to the pumpkin farm prompted an investigation of trees, leaves and pumpkins. A picture of men floating in giant, hollowed out pumpkins down a river prompted a sink and float investigation. Our Gingerbread Man running away prompted them to build amazing structures to catch him.  It snowed last year so we investigated snowflakes, feeding the birds prompted them to investigate how animals find food and survive the winter, block play prompted an investigation of ramps, force and motion...you get the idea! 

This summer I really explored the idea of using play and creating provocations (kind of like learning centers but not lead by a teacher, more exploratory) that would invite the children to explore and ask questions and inquire deeper! Play is so important in developing real life skills such as collaboration, cooperation, working together, problem solving, and so much more!!! In order for this to be meaningful, I need more than what used to be a 20 minute unstructured free choice time! It needs to look different and we will need more time.

Exploring clay would be one example of a provocation.  Clip boards and pencils would be added also.

With all of that in mind, here is what my daily schedule will hopefully look like:

After breakfast and our morning meeting, they will discuss and plan what they will do and how they will think and learn during our "Investigations" time. They will then make a deliberate choice from a variety of areas that will be set up ahead of time such as home living, engineering (blocks/building materials), art (painting, sculpture, collage, etc), clay, small world play, loose parts, science, reading, and writing.  Both of us teachers will be observing, asking guiding questions, helping guide them to incorporate literacy, math, and observational skills. We will also document their experiences and use it for planning future experiences.  I am hoping that we will be able to investigate through play for about 40 minutes. Projects will also be worked on at this time. 

After their play, we will allow some children to share and we will reflect on what we have noticed, and point out how kids have used literacy and math targets. These most likely will develope into mini lessons and be referred to during math and literacy instruction later in the day!  

When we finish sharing, they will go back to clean and organize the areas they played at.  If it is a work in progress, they will create signs to make sure they stay. We will take our time and not rush this process. I want them to take pride in taking care of all of the materials and areas of our room. If someone told me to clean my kitchen in 5 minutes, I would be throwing things in cupboards and into piles in a rush too!

Writer's workshop will come next.  The kids do not use journals. We will relax and read a story and notice what the writer did as an author or illustrator. The kids then write books as real authors and illustrators. They may write about their experiences, an inquiry, fiction, non fiction, something they know that they want to teach the class about, retell a favorite story, etc. They always write stories that are meaningful for them. When they can write their stories as books, they will write for 30 minutes and complain when I tell them to stop. During this time, I will pull small groups who need to work on similar writing skills while my co-teacher conferences with individual children.  

Most likely we will need to take a break from our writing to eat lunch, then we will come back to it when we are finished eating.  We end Writer's workshop by having some kids share and celebrate what they have learned and can do as writers!

Reader's Workshop will come next with a short 10 minute mini lesson using big books, poetry or experiences from our investigations time.  To prepare for our Thinking and Learning Time, (I got that term from Joanne over at myclassroomtransformation.blogspot.com. Teacher friends,check her out, she is amazing!!)  the kids look at their data folders to see what they need to work on. They come up with a plan and choose stations with materials or literacy/math experiences that will help them meet their Learning Targets. I will work on guided reading with small groups while my co-teacher will work with kids at stations, or pull out small groups for guided math.  When we are finished, we will pick some children to show what they learned and how they learned it. Math mini lessons will also come from this sharing time. 

Inquiry Studies- At some point in the afternoon, the kids will leave us for a half hour or an hour for special classes.  Three days a week, I have an extra half hour because they only go to one special class. On these days we will use the extra time for our inquiry studies.

Outdoor exploration will take place on a daily basis, unless it rains. We are developing an outdoor exploration area to provide more natural items for kids to play on and investigate!

At the end of the day we will gather together, look at documentation (photos) and reflect on our day. This will also encourage discussion on what will happen the next day. 

I am hoping this schedule works out! As I see more literacy and math happening naturally during investigation time and sharing time, I may be able to integrate math/literacy stations more in another investigation time rather than a separate station time...but I am not there yet! I am still taking my baby steps! Wish me luck!