It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

See, Move, Build, Sketch

I recently attended a conference on The Outdoor Classroom Project here in California. I always love going to seminars because there is always something useful that we can take away from the experience. My "take-away" piece of knowledge this time was the "See, Move, Build, Sketch" model to teaching preschoolers.  I especially love this approach because it can work effectively in teaching nearly any topic.

Though it is fairly self-explanatory, here is the idea in a nutshell. In italics, I have provided our specific plans for implementing this teaching/learning model in the hollow block center of our outdoor classroom. I will use the subject of trains to help illustrate the points since our three-year olds are currently working on trains as a long-term project.

SEE - Show children photos, cards, books and models of the subject you are teaching or of the idea you are hoping to 'inspire'.

Our plan: Hang photos of various trains such as steam locomotives, cargo trains and bullet trains, near the hollow blocks center in the Outdoor Classroom; show photos of engineers, & conductors; set out fiction and non-fiction books about trains; supply a set of large, wooden toy trains for the children to explore with the blocks.

MOVE - BE the subject.

Our plan: Supply engineer hats for the children to wear in the center; line-up chairs near the blocks so the children can pretend they are passengers on a train; encourage children to chug around the yard as if they were trains going on a trip; practice train sounds.

BUILD - Build models of the subject at hand using blocks, play dough, clay, recyclables, or any other appropriate medium.

Our plan: Encourage the children to build trains using the hollow blocks - they could make large-scale trains for multiple children to sit in, small trains using just a few blocks, a train to encompass the chairs, or they could even build tracks for the wooden trains that have been placed in the center.

SKETCH - Encourage the children to draw, sketch, diagram, or illustrate pictures of the subject on hand. Encourage the children to make sketches of the creations they built using the various mediums.

Our plan: Supply clipboards, paper, and pencils for the children to draw and illustrate their hollow block creations; encourage the children to sketch about trains they have see or sketch their own ideas for new trains they would like to design. Hang sketches in the center for other children to see.

Here are some very simple photos of how this teaching/learning model has been used in the outdoor classroom at the Child Education Center in La Canada, California (the founding center of "The Outdoor Classroom Project").

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sensory Bin with a Hole-y Top

First, let me apologize for the very extended break I took from my blog. I am ashamed! Although, I do have an excuse...

Meet my new Cinnamon Conure :-). We bought him nearly weaned, so we were rather preoccupied with feeding, snuggling, and admiring our new little creature! His name is Candy Apple. Isn't he cute???

BUT, back to business! Once again, I have 'borrowed' one of Tom's sensory bin ideas from his blog at Sand and Water Tables. He has a great explanation as to why this apparatus is valuable for learning and he even shows a few videos of the children in action. I am working towards getting a wooden table-top, but in the meantime, I rigged up this cardboard top to see if the wooden top would be a good investment. After watching the children scoop, dig, pour, balance, and maneuver their scooping tools, I have no doubt that that the investment would be well worth it!

This was truly one of those activities that engaged the children for LONG periods of time. Today, two boys worked steadily at the station for over half an hour! 

This table top was very easy to make. I laid down three sheets of cardboard, measured and cut them to the size of the sensory table, and then sealed the edges with red duct tape. I used a box cutter to cut through each layer of the cardboard. Then, I taped along the edges of the holes. I scored the tape so it would go around the circles without crumpling up. For stability, I taped the table-top to the sensory bin.

Reaching into the table through the holes was a new experience and caused the children to think about how they were going to pull the beans and corn out without spilling.

As with any sensory activity, there is always some clean up. These boys enjoyed using the brooms as much as they enjoyed using the new table top!