Busy Bees in The Hive Classroom: An exploration of loose parts

When you give children access to loose parts and extended periods of time to explore and create….you will see amazing things. Year after year I ask my self, why are the students in The Hive Classroom always so engaged with loose parts? What creates this type of success? It is not just having access to wonderful materials…you can’t purchase creativity.

The teachers in The Hive Classroom do an incredible job of providing a variety of materials, quality work space and large periods of uninterrupted time. They carefully introduce each material, slowly and intentionally into the classroom, making sure children are ready to use it safely and properly. This process allows for children to push past the first idea, or the first moment of boredom or the first conflict and explore problem solving skills and deeper levels of innovation.

The students in The Hive have been pushing their creativity with magnetic builders, loose wooden parts, blocks and other interesting loose parts…check out some of their interesting work!

 

What can you make using stumps and other building materials? I love the symmetry and balance that was achieved!
The wooden platform that these children are working on is such an inspirational building space. When children have different levels to work on, their play is instantly changed. I love the combination of wooden blocks, animal figurines and magnetic tiles.
Building zoos, habitats and homes! Aways a popular activity!
Building doesn’t have to happen on the floor! Using vertical spaces for building with magnetics encourages a new type of thinking! Suddenly children have to think about their creation in a new way!
Having a variety of shapes and types of wooden blocks is critical. Different shapes force children to find new ways to create balance and symmetry. Window blocks bring beauty and light. And diffferent types of wood allows us to explore texture and touch.
I love when I see a child build one of these beautiful magnetic “quilts”!
Teamwork tower building!
Adding a light projector to a space with translucent materials is such an incredible way for children to explore light, shadow and color. I love that in order to see their results the children had to build something tall enough for the light to hit it! What a wonderful natural challenge!

 

Space Adventures

The galaxy is full of wonder….limitless possibilities…..endless freedom……Kind of like childhood right? Bringing the solar system to your students is a way to give them a hands on experience with something that feels….well…..very distant. Our students have the BIGGEST questions about life’s biggest mysteries…and it’s not our job to provide the answer, but instead to give them the chance to explore, gather information, investigate….and Blast Off!!

Intergalactic Sensory Bin! Black water beads, black dyed water, glitter and planets…..how can you resist putting your hands in that!?

 

3….2……1…..Blast Off! Building these name rockets was…..well….a blast!

 

What an awesome invitation to create! When students walked in they were invited to mix the colors in the shaving cream to create their own planets! Afterwards they used circular paper to make planet prints!

Paper Plate Planet Art! Each child explored the colors of our earth by making their own version of our world!

 

DIY Constellations! Being inspired by the sky to recreate famous constellations or make your own is such a great way to practice fine motor skills!

 

I love this small world invitation for individual students! Using black sand, glitter, rocks and planet cards students can explore sensory elements while also exploring the solar system!

Chicka Chicka…

Creating opportunities for children to explore and interact with letters is incredibly important, but they also need to have meaning and context during this exploration. If we just throw a bunch of letters in front of children and expect them to care about them…..were kidding ourselves……

However, when we connect them to an experience, suddenly, there is meaning. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom By Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault does that ENTIRE job for us. The story personifies the alphabet and invites the reader to care about their safety and comfort as they fall from the tree and search for loved ones. Its simple. Its catchy. Its rhythmic. And it lends itself perfectly to a bunch of literacy extensions in the classroom!

Check out some of the fun ways we used Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to explore and engage with the alphabet.

Using colored table on a magnetic surface we were able to create this Coconut tree for children to re-tell the story! Simple alphabet magnets were an easy way to allow children to manipulate and move the letters!

 

These SUPER inexpensive foam alphabet puzzles are kinda lame as puzzles……but they really do make the best stencils! They are easier to hold and no so wiggly on the paper, our students love using them to practice those fine motor skills!

 

These alphabet blocks are fun to stack and build with, but they are even better for making prints in Kinetic Sand! Our students love exploring the different letters they can make by pressing them into the sand!

 

Alphabet Soup! These personal sensory bins using colored water and colored water beads (we buy them in already separated color packs) are SO much fun to explore! Just add the foam letters from the puzzles in the previous picture, and start searching for letters! The laminated coconut trees on the table added another element and encouraged students to retell the story!

 

We love using a story to encourage a fun transition game! After students read this story at circle time, the teacher asked each child to come add a letter to the Coconut Tree before heading to the sink to wash their hands for lunch! Each child took their turn carefully adding a letter to the tree!

 

What fun ways have you used this wonderful story in your classroom? Is it a favorite with your littles? We would love to hear your ideas!

 

Bringing the Magic….

The Holiday Season is such a magical time for students, full of traditions, celebrations and family time. Every year we spend time asking our students about the traditions they enjoy at home, how their families spend the holidays and how they want to celebrate in our classroom. This is what makes an emergent curriculum really come to life, when you can incorporate the ideas, traditions and experiences of your students into your classroom culture!

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Gingerbread making station! Using a collection of odds and ends….we were able to make beautiful gingerbread people!
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More gingerbread people! How inviting is this activity!? Students loved naming their gingerbread people, creating stories and characters and of course pretending to eat them!
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Simple pattern making using candy canes and red and green dyed pasta. Pattern making is an important kindergarten readiness skill that children need to practice often and in unique ways.
Who says you can’t practice your math skills during a holiday celebration? The students in The Hive classroom practiced their graphing skills with this fun activity! Each child was given a gingerbread cookie and asked to take one bite. Afterwards, the children then documented which bite they took first using cutouts, and graphed them together.
Winter Animals Habitat, sensory play! Flour, sugar cubes, wooden logs and winter animal figurines help children go on a journey to a winter wonderland!
What does your Gingerbread House have on it!? We all have the drawer of random craft scraps, odds and ends and spare bits! Let your children use them in a meaningful way! Our students loved decorating their gingerbread houses using this collection of bits!
An ongoing collaborative art piece with layers, upon layers, upon layers…..of SNOW! Each day our students added another layer of paint using different methods and colors to create their masterpiece!
And eventually covering it in shaving scream!

The Importance of Classroom Environment

I can’t stress enough the importance of a quality classroom environment. It is the first question I ask teachers when they are having struggles with students behaviorally or when their classroom is not functioning.

“What changes can you make in your classroom environment to help students/staff/families be more successful?”

It seems like such a simple question….but it is often this question that leads to other questions…and then to change.

Anyone who has taught with me begins to either love or dread my questions….A simple question like, “Why are the children not playing in the block area?” Can lead to a drastic rearranging of the entire classroom. But it is questions like this that we MUST ask ourselves as educators.

If you are constantly telling your students to stop climbing up the bookcase to grab their favorite book, you might consider moving the favorite book to the bottom shelf.

The classroom environment should feel welcoming and inviting, but also it should promote success within your students. For most, this is their first school experience, we want it to be positive. As the school year goes on, and we begin to increase the level of independence in the classroom, we can begin to make changes in the environment that raise the expectation level.

This is the power the classroom environment holds….use it! It truly is the third teacher. The teachers within our program do an incredible job of setting up environments that support the interests and developmental needs of their students. By observing their students they are able to create an environment that can promote a learning community where all children can thrive and grow.

Below are some of the unique moments within our classrooms that our teachers have worked hard to create:

A dramatic play space that is FULL of REAL items….when a space has authenticity, children elevate their play!
A Classroom should have spaces that are meant for a large group, and also spaces that are designed for one to two children. I love this small art space created for one, where children care wear headphones and paint what they hear.
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Our mud kitchen in our outdoor space is simple. But we approached it exactly like we approach our classroom spaces. We wanted it to be functional, full of authenticity and also beautifully inviting.
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Another dramatic play space that invites children to play with its gorgeous set up!
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A broader look at one of our classrooms!
I love the natural elements that these teachers included in their dramatic play set up! Students loved to pretend that the acorns and pinecones were part of the feast!
Environmental changes don’t have to be huge….but can make all the difference. By simply turning this table upside, teachers created a weaving space that turned into an ongoing collaborative art project. It was a simple change that encouraged children to slow down and look at things differently.
An upside down table turned into this work of art!
A simple dramatic play space that is elevated by simply adding a table cloth (a piece of fabric folded to size) and properly placed table settings.
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Don’t be afraid to look at your classroom in new and interesting way….this rug became an activity space by simply being intentional by how the materials were displayed.
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The students in this classroom added to this activity for weeks. By allowing the classroom environment to support this “Recycled City”, students were able to create something they were truly proud of and engaged in.
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A simple and cozy reading corner.
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The top of this shelf became a loose parts collection site. Children were given access to this space and could bring the loose parts into other areas of the classroom.
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The teachers in this classroom used this giant chalkboard as a space to collect ideas from students and share the curriculum with families.
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Overall classroom set up of The Den Classroom.
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A simple circle time space that is inviting but not overwhelming.

The Importance of Block Play

Students need access to different types of manipulatives, blocks and loose parts….but also need extended uninterrupted amounts of time to engage with them. Often we provide these materials, but then we don’t give our students enough freedom and time to truly explore their potential. Check out some of the wonderful ways our students explore these materials, and the wide range of skills that are being practiced!

Block play often leads to incredible dramatic play scenarios. When children are engaged in imaginative play they are practicing their storytelling skills, they are problem solving and resolving conflicts with peers….and most importantly they are trying on ideas, identities and roles that they may some day become!
It’s almost like you see the wheels turning in her head……the questions that are being asked, and the solutions that are being found!
When children play with blocks they explore shapes and size, they make comparisons and identify the properties of geometry!
Open ended materials such as duplos, allow students to create whatever prop or setting their story needs! These duplos helped these students create a tower perfect for Rapunzel!
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Loose parts are such a wonderful way to expand children’s view! A caterpillar can be made from anything….including a collection of colorful blocks!
Loose parts can be found in so many places, and don’t have to be extensive! This collection of plastic cups and inexpensive candles is such a simple invitation for children to explore their creativity.

Bringing the Outside In……

Our curriculum has always tried to find new and unique ways to connect children to the natural world. By providing opportunities for children to touch, manipulate and explore nature we can help them better understand and appreciate it…..however, at The Learning Loft our urban setting can provide some nature challenges.

This is why we have to find ways to bring natural elements into our everyday activities. Children can’t just touch a pinecone once and then appreciate the forest. They need to be constantly immersed in nature…touching, smelling and manipulating it.

These are some of the ways we bring nature into our play based learning environment….

 

Flower soup! Providing students with different natural materials and a bowl of water is the simplest activity, with a huge impact! Children can manipulate the items using scissors, tweezer, scoops, food coloring and water….to of course create Flower Soup

 

Great fine motor practice too!
Our students will enjoy this activity all week….each day new materials, colors, tools and recipes are added to extend the learning. Some of our older children will write their recipes, practicing early math and literacy skills!
A great activity for practicing scissor skills with a nature twist!
Pumpkin Dissection! If we want children to understand and appreciate fruits and vegetables, we need to give them hands on experience with them! Our students love using different tools to manipulate (nice word for smash and destroy) different fruits and veggies!
Nature identification table! Giving scientific tools to children forces them to take a closer look at the nature that surrounds us! 
We want our children to develop early literacy skills by practicing handwriting skills….but who says it needs to be on paper!?! 
Seashell and marine figurines sensory table!

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Adding tree cookies (yes, that is what those mini logs are called) are an easy way to provide a natural element to an activity. These students are using the math manipulative combined with a sensory element for sorting, counting and small world play. 
These individual sensory bins create a small world fairy center using dirt, rocks and tree cookies! 
Seed sorting! More hands on exploration of fruit and veggies!
This time the teachers took the vegetable investigation into another direction….construction! Students are encouraged to hammer nails and screw screws into the squash. One of the MOST popular activities all year!
Brining tree branches into the classroom to allow children a closer look….remember in order for children to truly appreciate and understand nature, they must enjoy it with all their senses. By making the branch accessible to them, they can deepen their understanding and appreciation. 
Using rocks as a morning check in station! 
A simple counting activity where the teachers simply replaced plastic counters with natural items. Children can now count, sort or graph the different items from nature.