Blog

Celebrating the PUMPKIN!

I LOVE Fall. I love everything about it. The changing of seasons, the holidays and the awesome curriculum that you can naturally dive into. We are an emergent style curriculum which means that we focus in on topics and themes that our students are interested in and connect to the experiences they are having in their lives. In the Fall, especially in Oregon where we live, Pumpkins grow in local farms and we are surrounded by fields of beautiful pumpkins of every shape and color. Because of this, Pumpkins always become a natural topic of conversation.

We don’t want to just talk about the Pumpkin….we want to touch it, taste it, smash it, build with it and manipulate it in anyway we can. By allowing our students to use all of there senses to interact with the Pumpkin, their understanding, interest and appreciation for vegetables increases. When we introduce Pumpkin vocabulary and life cycle information through hands on experiences, students are invested and interested in learning more.

Check out our investigation of THE PUMPKIN!

Using hollowed out Pumpkins as a bowl we made individual sensory stations. Each Pumpkin shell was full of homemade Orange Slime, Google Eyes and Plastic Bones! Such a fun Sensory exploration.

Giving students a variety of tools and manipulative to explore their pumpkin with. One of the favorites is always the mallets (search for Crab Hammers on Amazon) and golf tees. Students love pounding the tees into the pumpkins!

Isn’t it incredible what our littlest students are capable of?!? Using unifix cubes as a universal unit of measure, students can begin to understand size, measurement and order. Which Pumpkin is the tallest? Can you put them in order from biggest to smallest? How many unifix cubes wide is the pumpkin?

A close up of that Oooooeeeyyy Gooooooeeeeyyyy Sensory Fun!

Loose Part Play

I am a huge believer in the importance of Loose Part Play, and I have really increased the students accessibility to loose parts in our classrooms over the last few years. I get a lot of questions about loose parts and how it works in the classroom. What are loose parts? What are children gaining from this process? How do you encourage loose part play? Are children hesitant to play with these toys? And of course…..what are your favorite loose parts to use in classroom?

“Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic.” -The Theory of Loose Parts Play

Loose Part Play in Action:

When children have access to Loose Part Play regularly, they begin to see Loose Parts all around them! They begin to see the potential of their environment and the opportunists to be creative.

Our program has a really small outdoor space, in order to incorporate Loose Parts Play outside, we had to use a lot of small scale parts. Lots of small logs, wooden blocks, small stumps and wood scraps make for excellent loose part play!

Froebel’s gifts are the original Loose Parts. They are designed to help your students understand shapes, curves, lines and colors through design and manipulation. We love our Froebel gifts!

Giving children access to different types of blocks and encouraging them to combine and create with them is an essential creative process. I love this combination of small dominoes, large dominoes and and magnetic blocks.

Another awesome combination! Using small plastic cups, dominoes, wooden blocks and marbles…look at the fun these kiddos came up with!

These wooden cylinders were really elevated by the addition of cutout squares of cardboard. Students were able to make towers, experience the with balance and proportion and test boundaries!

Solo cups are one of my favorite Loose Parts! Cheap, simple, easy to store and incredibly versatile! Our students love to build with Solo Cups!

A large variety of small Loose Parts on a table can be incredibly inviting! Look at the incredible creativity and teamwork from this group of Preschool students! I love the combination of corks, large wooden dominoes, rocks, tin buckets, dowels, wooden spools and Keva blocks!

Sensory Experiences!

The teachers at The Learning Loft know that as their director, there is no mess too big, no such thing as wasting paint and to encourage the process not the product! Our teachers encourage our students to explore new and interesting sensory experiences everyday…and to create an environment where investigation ad experimentation is encouraged!

Using different types of sponges and cut up pool noodles students explored with paint on paper and wood scraps.

What child doesn’t LOVE slime!?! This is a great way to add new textural and fine motor elements to everyone’s favorite sensory experience! We created this activity using drying racks from the dollar store, homemade slime and scissors.

Race Cars and Paint! This is such a great activity to help bridge the gap for your little ones that love planes, trains and automobiles….and not much else. This is a way to get our little racecar drivers excited about something new in a way that feels inviting, exciting….and speeeeedddyyyy!

Sometimes a REALLY great sensory activity doesn’t have to be messy. Using ziplocks with paint inside on a light table, students who may not be as comfortable with a mess can still enjoy a great sensory experience. Students can use different amounts of pressure to mix colors and practice writing skills.

If you haven’t used Shaving Cream in your classroom, I highly recommend it. Cheap. Clean. And incredibly engaging. Look how fun this activity is! The teachers used Shaving Cream to creative this beautiful heart and then added liquid water colors on top to encourage color mixing and a collaborative sensory experience.

More Than Just Likes and Followers: Using Social Media in Your School

About two years ago, I began to hear a common concern from families that were attending our program.

“It looks like they ‘play” a lot at your school….when do they learn?! And how will you prepare them for kindergarten if all they do is play?”

Obviously, statements like this frustrated staff. We understood the importance of play based learning, and I believed that most of our parents did as well. However, outside pressures, talk of statewide testing, the constant focus on academics for children younger and younger each year…left parents feeling….well, confused. They knew that their children should be playing at school, but they didn’t know why. And they knew that their children were learning, but they didn’t understand how.

This is where social media came into play. I was already using a wide range of parent communication strategies. Newsletters, emails, parent/teacher conferences…however, I needed a constant stream of visual evidence to help them understand what we were doing in the classroom and why it was important.

Instagram was an obvious choice. Instagram provides a visual feed that is easy for parents to access, beautifully presented and most importantly….FREE!

Before I began I made a couple of important rules for our Instagram page…

  1. No photos of children’s faces. Our page is public and this was not something I felt comfortable with. Our parents all sign photo release forms, however, I still don’t post picture of direct faces or use the names of children.
  2. Our Instagram page would have one voice. Although the teachers are responsible for taking all pictures, I am the only person who has access to our IG account. This ensure that the content and voice of the page are consistent…which is important!
  3. Quality of Content! Everything I post is carefully edited, proofread (I still make some errors…) and thoughtful. It is important to me that the content we share is beautiful and accurately tells our story. Our Instagram page is a resource and source of inspiration for many, but it is also a simple way for prospective and current families to learn more about program.

Since creating our Instagram page I have seen a dramatic increase in interest in our school….but more importantly, parents understand our curriculum and choose our school because of it. Before families even walk in the door they have an understanding of our program, they speak our language and they want their child to learn through play.

If we know that a picture says a 1000 words, than the power is in the picture….so use it!

When I post a picture to Instagram, I first make sure it is of value. I then focus on one element of learning to explain in the caption. Here is an example of a great photo, and the different elements I could highlight in the caption:

If you have any questions about how to successfully use social media to help your community understand your curriculum, please feel free to comment below!

 

Igniting Creativity in The Hive Classroom

How do we inspire our youngest artists? Our little ones need open ended activities and space and time to properly explore them. They need a wide range of materials and access to them. They need to be encouraged to push further and think deeper. And most importantly they need to be acknowleged not for their product but for their hard work and determination. Check out the incredible work our little artists have created in The Hive Classroom!

Open ended painting with corks and paint!
Creating with pipe cleaners!
When children have access to a wide range of materials the possibilities are endless!
Worried about going through materials too quickly? When children ask for tape, feathers, pipecleaners or other expensive materials, I like to ask the question, “What is your plan?” If children have a clear plan, I then ask, “How much do you need?” This limits waste and encourages children to have a creative direction.
Finding inspiration from peers.
Simple open ended painting.
The “Before” of one of our MOST favorite activities! Each cotton circle has a circle of paint under it….check out the “After” in the next photo….
The “After”: As each child uses the mallet to crush the cotton circle….and explosion of color is created!
Creating an ongoing collage in a box!
Simple box collage! Another easy way to do collaborative art!

Fantastic Fall Fun in The Forest Classroom!

The Forest Classroom always reminds me of Fall….it is warm and inviting and has that cozy feeling that makes you never way to leave. But over the past month they have brought even more beautiful Fall elements into their classroom. Check out the fantastic Fall fun the Forest had this month!

 

Using mallets and golf tees with pumpkins is always a favorite activity!
Leaf Painting! Our students love incorporating nature into the artistic process. Here is a simple way to take your leaf collection to the next level!
This ooey-gooey sensory table isn’t for the faint of heart! Search for bones, eyeballs, bats and creepy crawlies in the red slime!
Using scissors to cut leaves is a WONDERFUL way to practice those important fine motor skills! When it comes to scissors we want our students to get as much exposure as possible, but it can also get boring using them in the same way everytime. This is a great way to change it up!
Are you my mummy?! A simple project that is ALWAYS a big hit…in fact my little guy (in the blue sweatshirt!) made 6 of them! Students love getting to rip up the toilet paper and glue it on to the mummy! When else are you encouraged to rip up toilet paper!
When it comes to bugs the more legs the better!? Right!? Searching for insects in beautiful green and brown slime! What will you find when you start digging!
Loose part Jack-O-Lantern making! Using pumpin seeds and leaves, students made their own spook-tacular faces!

 

A Collection of Halloween Treats!

Each year our teaching staff go ABOVE AND BEYOND to make the month of October extra special for our students. Our students this year have been thrilled to find each day full of interactive, hands on exploration of all that is icky sticky and creepy crawly.

Get inspired to bring the spirit of the season into your classroom and encourage your children to explore their favorite holiday in a whole new way!

What can you find in the Witches’ Brew? This sensory search was so much fun! Students loved trying to find and count out the different creepy crawly items!

 

A dollhouse is fun…..but a Haunted Mansion is even better! Simple touches create a whole new space and elevates the play!
Using Leaves as an art medium, inspires creativity and innovated thinking. Students made masterpieces by simply using leaves, markers and glue!
Orang felt pumpkins and black shapes are a great way to explore making Jack-O-Lanterns!
The Painted Pumpkin Roll! One of our favorite activities! Painting pumpkins and rolling them around on large sheets of paper to create prints, shapes….and a beautiful mess!
Using seeds and leaves to make a face!
Playdough and “Mr. Potato Head Pieces” are such a fun way to make unique and spooky monsters!
Inspired by Room on the Broom, students can use manipulates and counting cards to make their own story!
Make your own Witches Brew! What will you add? What ingredients do you need to make the perfect potion?
More Pumpkin Painting!
Another fun way to use the “Mr. Potato Head” pieces with Foam!
Providing scientific tools for pumpkin exploration elevates the activity and encourages students to take a closer look!
Pumpkin Prints! What does it look like when you paint a pumpkin and make art…..a gorgeous way to explore shape, texture and patterns.
Can you paint with a sunflower? What kind of prints will you get? What types of texture?
More Pumpkin Painting!
Using seeds in water trays for sensory exploration! Seeds, water, pinchers, measuring cups and bowls make a great sensory exploration activity!
Can you make a Mummy?! Simple cut outs and ripped up tissue paper make for a very simple Halloween Craft!
Encouraging children to make Pumpkin Shapes out of playdough using a premade laminated template and actual pumpkins for inspiration!

 

 

 

Spooky Exploration in The Garden Classroom!

This Blog Post should come with a warning…..Not for the I-Don’t-Like-To-Get-Messy-Teacher! The Garden Classroom loves to push the limits of sensory exploration and create one of a kind hands on experiences for their students that are equal parts creativity and science….with a touch of creepy crawly! Check out the fun The Garden Classroom had the last couple of months!

 

You may have seen our popular “Flower Soup” posts, but have you ever seen “Leaf Stew?” Just add water, food coloring, leaves and of course spiders and flies to create this creepy concoction! A great activity to practice pouring, dumping, wisking and measuring!
Slime + Eyeballs + Pumpkins…..How could you go wrong?!
I love using natural materials to inspire the creative process! These students are using leaves combined with paper, markers and glue to create their own masterpiece!
Check out their beautiful creations!
Sunflowers forts are the perfect way to celebrate Fall!
Painting gourds and pumpkins to explore texture and make unique prints! This is such a fun hands on experience! As chidlren roll them across the paper the different vegetables create new and unique prints!
Now that you painted the pumpkins….you have to give them a bath of course!
Using sunflowers to make goregous prints! Another wonderful way to let nature’s beauty inspire an artistic masterpiece!
Loose part play with mini pumpkins and tree cookies! I often see classrooms with “decorations” that the children can’t touch or interact with. This is a perfect example of decorations that the children can manipulate, stack, play with and explore!
Fall Sensory Table fun!
More exploration of Fall Loose Parts!
Painting those pumpkins so that they are ready for bath time!

An Apple Adventure in The Bridge!

With an emergent curriculum, it is important to our staff that we follow the interests and curiosity of our students….so when students strike up a conversation during snack time about Apples….you follow! In Oregon we are lucky to have beautiful orchards filling our valleys and most of our students eat Apples daily in their classrooms and at home….but often this simple fruit is overlooked and underappreciated. Check out how The Bridge classroom showed the Apple some much needed LOVE!

The Apple Core-er and Peeler is ALWAYS such a hit! Students love getting to help use it and of course eat the different shaped pieces! It’s also a great opporutnity for STEM based conversation…How does it work? What parts are used to create this simple machine? What shapes does it create?
How can you mix colors to make your shade of Apple?! Some of the best conversation starts when children realize that apples come in many different colors….and that most apples, are not just one color. Exploring different shades and tones of colors, and using real apples to inspire the art piece is such an incredible actitivity!
How many apples belong on the tree?
Making Apple Pie outside with just the right ingredients!
Another option for this simple activity…pinching playdough to add apples to the trees! Great fine motor activity that also practices cognitive counting skills!

A Rainbow of Learning in The Den Classroom!

The Den Classroom has been on a Rainbow Aventure that lasted over a month! Each week they explored a different color of the rainbow and spent time studying the different shades and qualities of each. The activities they provided for their students were equal parts beautiful and engaging and helped ignite interest in all of their students. Take a look at this beautiful unit that started with the question…..what is your favorite color?

A beautiful way to document each child’s favorite color!
Asking each child the question, What is your favorite color during circle time!
Raibow Rice Sensory Bin! This table is almost TOO beautiful!
Color Mixing is such an important activity for young students. Providing each student with liquid water colors in the the three primary colors allows them to explore color mixing and sensory play….however, these teachers took it up a notch and added science materials that elevated the play and practiced those fine motor skills.
Explore the rainbow with a colorful mixture of dyed chickpeas, shapes and fruit manipulatives.
Organizing loose parts, building materials and figurines by color, ignites the imagination and completely changes the way students engage with the activity!
Rainbow Sensory Play! Shaving cream with water colors on top……just screams…..PLEASE MIX ME UP! This is always a favorite activity in our classroom!
Here comes the mess!
Can you make a rainbow that jumps off the paper?
Rainbow Bridges!
One of the really amazing activities The Den Classroom did this week were simple monochromatic tables that highlighted a different color each week. Students were able to explore one color at a time in a very intimate way. Each week the materials and color changed encouraging children to look closer at the table and use their imagination!
Rainbow Spagetti and Playdough Scissors! This is a great way to introduce scissor skills to your classroom if your students are not quite ready for scissors. We love using this activity at the beginning of the school year when students are first learning how to use and handle scissors.
More exploration with shaving cream…..How beautiful is this!
I love these small rainbow people figurines combined with blocks!