Great Ideas for Making Music Outdoors

Music has the power to lift us- body, mind and spirit. This is especially true for young children. Making and moving to music promotes all areas of development:

  • physical– coordination, muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills develop as children play instruments or dance to music
  • cognitive– creating and listening to music includes problem solving, logical thinking, patterning, counting, cause and effect, scientific discoveries, imagination and creativity
  • language– vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and rhyming can all be developed through songs
  • social– cooperation, turn-taking, give and take and the creation of shared experiences are all a part of the music making process
  • emotional– self-expression, personal reflection and the exploration of moods and feelings

When we take music outdoors all of these wonderful qualities are enhanced. Outdoors children (and teachers) have a heightened sense of freedom. Outdoors we feel more comfortable to let go and explore. We can sing loud, we can play loud, we can get silly and experimental.

So consider creating a music corner in your outdoor space. Every-day items can make wonderful instruments.

  • Plastic flower pots or 5 gallon tubs make great drums
  • a variety of old spoons hanging on a coat hanger can be chimes
  • PVC pipes of various lengths can be tapped with an old flip-flop to create all kinds of cool sounds
  • Pea gravel makes a neat sound when poured over an old washboard
  • Put a little water into a metal bowl and tap it with a stick to hear more funky sounds

Let the Children Play is another blog full of all kids of photos and ideas for musical fun outdoors. Check it out! And if you want even more info on how to create fun and inexpensive musical experiences to your children check out our Music with Little Ones binder for Infants and Toddlers, or our Making Music binder for ages 3-8.

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Secrets for Preventing Behavior Issues in Preschool

Managing a classroom of 20+ preschoolers is not easy! If a “good day” is a day when no one gets hurt, and a day without tears seems all but impossible, you are not alone! Here are some ideas that will go a long way in preventing many behavior issues:

  • Take a look at how your room is set up– young children see large open spaces as an invitation to run. Move low shelves or other furniture to create cozy nooks, quiet work spaces and defined play areas like a block play or dramatic play space.
  • Create classroom rules and give daily reminders– A few positively stated rules can be extremely effective in guiding children’s behavior. Rules like “we are kind to our friends”, “we walk in the classroom” and “we are gentle with our materials”, give children specific behavior expectations and create a positive atmosphere. Make a visual poster reminding children of your rules and reinforce the rules daily through songs, conversations or simple reminders.
  • Get to know children as individuals– most behavior issues come from a child’s need to feel important, to feel included/accepted or to feel respected. If you make a point of spending a little one-on-one time with each child and teach and encourage children to practice social skills  and always treat children with respect, you will be creating a community where everyone feels important, included and respected.
  • Plan activities for different learning styles– we all learn in different ways, yet many traditional school activities are designed for children who learn through listening and writing. Activities that include movement, visual support, songs, teamwork, the natural world or personal reflection will give children with these strengths or learning styles a chance to shine.

With these basic guiding principles in place, you should notice big improvements in the behavior of the children in your class. Of course, some behavior issues require more specific interventions, but only about 10-15% of the children in a typical classroom will fall into this category. For these children, you may need to seek out the advice of others, including teacher mentors, consultants or other professionals.

For all kinds of activity ideas that are engaging to different learning styles or “intelligences” visit www.wowkits.com.

5 Ways to Help Children Love Learning

With so much focus on accountability and test scores, much of a child’s time at school is spent focusing on his or her weaknesses. If a kindergartner is having trouble learning letter sounds, teachers make sure extra time is spent practicing letter sounds. Makes sense, right? The trouble is that even very young children begin to see school and learning as an experience that makes them feel frustrated and bad about themselves. So what can teachers and parents do to help build important skills without turning children off to learning? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Make sure your expectations are developmentally appropriate– Remember, all children develop at their own rate. Some preschoolers may be ready to sound out simple words, while others are still working on matching the correct sound to a letter. These developmental differences exist into early elementary school. Know the child you are working with and don’t push a skill that the child isn’t ready for!
  2. Build a positive relationship with each child– children are more willing to take risks and persist with challenging tasks if they feel safe and comfortable with you. Get to know children as individuals and let them know as often as you can that you appreciate them for who they are.
  3. Teach a weakness through a strength– If a child is having a hard time learning letters, but loves to move about, create a hide-and-seek letter game or scavenger hunt. Look for letters already out there in signs when you walk around the neighborhood, school or classroom, or hide letter cards around the room or playground.
  4. Create opportunities for positive experiences– Pair a struggling first grade reader with a preschool or kindergarten child who is learning letters and sounds. Give them a chance to be an expert in an area where they struggle. Encourage a child struggling with number identification help you with counting jobs around the room (Can you help me make sure I have 10 pencils in my pencil box?)
  5. Let children take the lead– if you notice that a child is really interested in dinosaurs (or any other topic), let the child lead the learning. Find out what he might want to learn about these creatures and help him to explore. As you do, encourage him to count the teeth in the T-Rex skeleton or identify the first letter sound in that big dinosaur word. The child can take the lead with the topic and you can insert skill development.

WoWKit Activity Binders can help you to reach and teach every child. Each binder is full of skill building teaching ideas for preschool and kindergarten that enable you to teach children through their strengths and interests and tap into their natural curiosity.

Using Multiple Intelligences to Support a Peaceful Classroom

I love doing workshops on Multiple Intelligence Theory for early childhood educators. Teachers of young children instinctively “get it”. More often than not, they’ve noticed that different children have skills and natural abilities in different areas, and learning about MI Theory helps give words to their own understanding of the strengths and abilities of individual children.

At a recent workshop one teacher (who has been using Multiple Intelligence Theory in her classroom for years) mentioned that people always comment on what a peaceful classroom she has. Year after year, her classes of around 20 preschoolers are always busy learning through meaningful play experiences that speak to individual children’s intelligences. She is convinced that understanding her children’s different intelligences and creating learning experiences that put those intelligences to use is the reason that her classroom exhibits fewer behavior issues.

  • Children who feel smart have better self-esteem- Children with better self-esteem  act out less
  • Children see that everyone has different skills and abilities- When differences are valued and respected by the teacher, children respect one another more
  • Children are more likely to become engrossed in an activity that speaks to their intelligence strengths- When children are excited by and engaged in an activity, they are more focused and less likely to cause trouble

Yes, planning a variety of activities to accommodate different intelligences is more work that having everyone do the same activity. But it is time well spent. At activity time, you’ll be re-directing children less, correcting  children less, negotiating less and managing disputes less. You’ll get to spend more time doing what you probably like best- watching children learn and grow!

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part IV

It has now been a year since the professionally installed playground became open to the children at this child care center. It has changed very little since it was first installed. An outdoor water fountain was removed. One teacher told me it was a hazard, the way it stuck out in the middle of an area that got a lot of kid traffic. Another said it was removed because a pipe burst (New Hampshire winters do that to pipes!). Other small changes include, more rungs added to a steep wooden ramp heading up a small hill, and flat rocks embedded into a high-traffic section of another hill where the grass was quickly warn away.

The teachers and children are as enthusiastic about their natural playground today as they were a year ago. One preschool teacher described it as “a nice, peaceful place to be.” I have visited a lot of school playgrounds, and I haven’t heard many teachers describe the playground experience in that way! Here are some of the reasons these teachers love their playground:

Fewer child conflicts- it is easier to redirect children and children are more likely to walk away and find a space of their own in the varied terrain of this playground

More outdoor time- because it is so easy to link the curriculum to the playground (reenacting stories, science exploration, math activities with natural materials) teachers take the children outdoors more often. One teacher said, “we used to go for walks to find things in nature, now we don’t even have to leave the playground.”

Children use their imaginations more- the uneven, exciting terrain of the playground with its caves, hills, tunnels, dips, rocks, ridges, and trees encourage all kinds of imaginative and cooperative play with children.

While the teachers didn’t mention this, I can’t help but think that this playground has also enhanced their teaching. Research shows that when children can get out and experience math and science concepts, or act out stories, they are learning content in a variety of ways, learning it faster and learning it better.

More of the Natural Playground series:

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part I

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part II

Watching 2 Natural Playgrounds Part III

What is Academically Rigorous?

Today, as I was searching the internet for information on effective nap time routines, I came across an older article from the Washington Post, “Preschools Break From Nap Time“. Apparently Superintendents of  public schools in Virginia and Maryland eliminated nap time from their preschool day because it is precious academic time that is wasted.

Nap time needs to go away,” Prince George’s County, Md., schools chief Andri J. Hornsby said recently. “We need to get rid of all the baby school stuff they used to do.

After reading the article, I am dumbfounded! Yes, preschool and child care programs should provide opportunities for children to grow and learn, to partake in enriching and challenging experiences. Research shows that children who have these enriching early experiences are more successful in school.

Research also shows that elementary school children in classrooms where teachers group children into collaborative teams to explore concepts, topics or complex problems that are interesting and meaningful to the children perform better on standardized tests and have fewer behavior issues in school than their peers in traditional classroom environments.

The academic terms for these teaching practices include Complex Instruction, Inquiry Based Learning, Multiple Intelligence Theory, Collaborative Peer Grouping. These terms sound intimidating and complicated, but when you really take a look at the concepts, it is all about doing what most quality preschool programs do already. The teacher serves as a guide to help children learn more about the things they are curious about (brings a magnifying glass to a child looking at a bug on the playground) and invites them to try and explore new ideas (later shows the child a book on different bugs and their habitats). Teachers set up experiences so that children can learn in different ways (sing ABCs, read an ABC book, point out letters in signs). Kids work together to solve problems (how to build a really tall castle with the blocks).

It turns out that when elementary schools take these preschool teaching methods and tweak them to fit the learning goals of their students, the kids actually like learning! Instead of Superintendents trying to push outdated elementary school teaching practices to the preschool level, maybe the preschool teachers should be sharing some of their magic with the elementary schools.

Exploring a New Age for Playgrounds

Anyone who has given a child a gift and has experienced the box being more interesting than the toy knows what fertile ground a child’s mind can be with the blank slate of a very plain object. A box can be a house, a bed, a hat, a parking garage… the possibilities are endless! This is the thinking behind the concept of “loose parts”. Loose parts are any loose, movable objects that children can use in many different ways during imaginative play.

Natural playground advocates see all of the sticks, rocks, sand, leaves and other natural items available on a natural playground as wonderful loose parts. And they are right! But can loose parts be made available in a traditional playground, which are often stripped of trees, rocks and any other items which might cause injury?

One playground designer I spoke with lamented the fact that most of the schools and town rec departments he deals with don’t want to have anything to do with any “playground equipment” that can’t be bolted down. Teachers don’t want to have to deal with lugging materials out and then storing them away again, and administrators don’t want to spend money on materials that they feel will quickly disappear. Understandable, but disappointing…

Now it looks like there is a new concept in playground equipment that is completely structured around the concept of loose parts.

Imagination Playground's Loose Parts

A recent article in the New Yorker Magazine entitle “The State of Play” turned me on to Imagination Playground and the work they are doing in bringing the concept of loose parts to playgrounds all over the country. These gigantic blue foam blocks and tubes can be used in any playground or open space, even in water! They are the keystone feature in many new playgrounds, but can also be purchased as a “kit” to add to your local playground. Loose parts that are very unlikely to walk away! Check out their website for more information about their mission and all kinds of photos and videos.