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Inquiry Muse

Observations and Reflections on Language Learning

Month

September 2013

Toy Day: Playful Learning and Skill-Building

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All learners need practice in order to achieve skill proficiency in any given subject area.  We often think of skill practice as consisting of drills and exercises, yet activities to which the skills are applied are also a means of practice and are often more engaging and meaningful to children. Skills are increased with use. Our focus in early childhood is on providing contexts in which children are motivated to apply their emerging skills in literacy and numeracy.

In my classroom, children are invited to share a special item from nature, a hand-made art project or an item related to our theme during share time each morning.  Toys, however, are not allowed.  Instead, at the end of every month we have a day specifically set aside for toys, which we aptly call, “Toy Day.”  What started out as a solution to a seemingly endless share time in which children brought the same toy week after week has become a very rich, meaningful, community event in our classroom.  Toy Day is a great example of a functional and purposeful learning situation in which children are motivated to practice and apply skills using a favorite toy from home.

The children are excited to talk about their toys, providing opportunities for rich oral language experiences as well as written language through journal entries.  The children draw a picture of their toy and then add language to their journal.  The Toy Day entries are always very descriptive because the child is invited to talk about something in which they are very interested.  Other opportunities for early literacy activities come about as we talk about the initial and ending sounds of the toy or the number of syllables (claps) in the word car or mermaid.  Emergent writers may begin to use phonetic writing to title their journal pages.  During our afternoon centers, several of the children “read” to their toy, sharing a favorite story in the classroom library.

Opportunities for mathematical integration are plentiful on this day.  Each child is excited to measure their toy using non-standard units of measure.  Concepts of more or less are practiced as the children compare the length of their toy with that of their classmate’s.  Estimation is practiced as the children guess the length of their toy before measuring.  We also use a balance scale to establish a measurement of weight, providing additional opportunities to apply skills of measurement, counting, number comparison and estimation. We spend time as a class sorting, classifying and graphing our toys, part of the algebraic standard in mathematics.

Social and emotional competencies are important to foster in young children, and bringing a toy from home provides opportunities for the children to connect in new ways.  It also gives the teachers a glimpse into the ever-evolving  interests,  passions and fantasy life of each child.  We typically have “Toy Day” towards to end of every month.  To the children, it is a culminating event and a fun day of play in the classroom.  The teachers know that it is much more than that.  It is a time to observe and assess the children as they apply the skills that they are learning in the classroom, while happily playing with a favorite toy.

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Technology as a Tool for Connection

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Last night my family met a larger group of extended family at a restaurant.  We were seated at a table near a large T.V., and my children were strategic in their choice of where to sit, remaining glued to the television throughout the entire course of our meal.  While I cannot blame them for being more interested in the television show than their grandparents, aunts and uncles, it was a missed opportunity for connection.

Technology is integrated into preschool classrooms in intentional, developmentally appropriate ways designed specifically to encourage and enhance connections.  In my classroom we introduce technology to children as a “tool”, in the same way that we talk about scissors, crayons and colored pencils. Technology can be a tool for communication, creative expression, documentation, information gathering and many other skills when used in interactive, meaningful ways. If you are interested in the NAEYC position statement for technology use in preschool and kindergarten, it can be accessed here: http://www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children/preschoolers-and-kindergartners

Our large interactive whiteboard (Activeboard) is used daily in class for whole group games and activities.  Since it involves groups of children, the activities are collaborative in nature, encouraging linguistic expression as well as the application of specific skills.  Similarly, the iPads are typically used with groups of children working together at a table, engaged with each other as well as with the activity itself.

The iPads are also an important tool for documentation in the classroom, as children are learning  to photograph their work.  We recently had a nature mandala project in the classroom in which children created designs with natural materials, photographed them with the iPad, and then attempted to duplicate the designs of their classmates.    The children also make connections with their parents in the block area by replicating the block structures that were created and photographed by their parents at Back to School Night.

Some of the ways that technology has enhanced connections in my classroom have come as a surprise to me.  During our afternoon center time, when the iPads are available for free exploration (as opposed to a specific, guided activity) the children often watch video clips from last year.  I simply had not gotten around to deleting some video clips from last year and had not considered the fact that the children would enjoy re-visiting highlights from the previous year until I heard a group of children singing while gathered around an iPad.  They were singing songs from last year’s Spring Sing, while watching a video of our last rehearsal in May of last year. Another child discovered a short video from our Thanksgiving celebration last November, which sparked a great conversation between the new and returning students about this special classroom tradition.  Witnessing the power of connection that comes through memories captured on film  has left me thinking about how I might use video of classroom activities more intentionally as a tool in this way.

Last week we engaged in activities for “Dot Day”, a celebration of creativity based on books by Peter Reynolds, and shared our work with classrooms around the world through posting artwork on Twitter.  For the past several years we have used Skype to connect with children’s grandparents and relatives in various corners of the world.  While there are many ways to use technology in passive formats (always helpful on long road trips!),  the opportunities for using technology as a tool for connection and interaction are plentiful and important to pursue in an educational setting.

In what ways has technology helped you and your child stay connected?  In what ways has it interfered? How can we use technology to enhance children’s thinking, reflection, problem solving and creativity?

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