Monday, March 27, 2017

A Big Mistake

What's the biggest mistake you've made in a classroom? Oh, I've made some great ones along the way. I think the first one that comes to mind happened when I was teaching first graders. I had put up a wonder wall and received lots of great questions and wonders. One day, when reading some of the wonders in our group, I read a great question about rainbows - and then I proceeded to answer it instead of leading the group in ways to discover the answer. I realized that mistake as I drove home. I'd missed a great opportunity to lead children in discovering their own answers to questions.

I've made spelling mistakes and factual mistakes in the classroom. I've tried things that just didn't work or that just didn't interest the children like I thought it would.

I think about how to take advantage of mistakes when I make them - showing the children that we all make mistakes and mistakes help us learn. I think about how plan to avoid general mistakes. I think about how to laugh when I make them and how to encourage when kids make them.

But when I think about a big mistake I could make in the classroom, I come back to the mistake of not trying new things. I get really comfortable in my classroom and in my way of doing things. I like when things feel comfortable. But if I always do things the same way without evaluating why I'm doing it - that's a mistake. If I only do something because it worked last year or the past however many years and don't filter what I'm doing against the characteristics of my current class - that's a mistake. If I don't listen and look at the kids I have when I'm planning and when I'm teaching - that's a mistake.

Of course, if I decide to jump on the latest trend in the classroom and don't weigh what I'm doing and why I'm doing it - that's a mistake. Just being novel isn't a good enough reason to bring things into my classroom. It must connect with my kids and our classroom community.

I love consistency - and so do young children. I love new things - and so do young children. But one of the biggest mistake I can make is to be oblivious. Not noticing my kids and their likes and interests. Not seeing their strengths and their areas of needed growth. Teaching as if what matters most is my needs and my comfort.

Why am I thinking about all of this? I'm wondering if I've fallen into a rut with my teaching. I do pay attention to what my church kindergarten kids like and want and need. But things seem very lax lately. I'm not really working much to prepare and plan. Maybe I've become very efficient at it...but it seems like there's something else that may be missing. It's more like I'm going through the motions more than really preparing to teach that group of kids. And if that's true, that's a really big mistake.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Take on Some Challenge Games

This particular group of kids in my church class like new things. They are always interested when I bring in something new or different. It doesn't need to be something completely novel, just something new for them or something used in a new and different way.

Recently our curriculum suggested some challenge games for our group. I figured we would try them out. Materials were ordinary materials--paper plates, plastic cups, straws, tissue paper squares. These were the suggested challenges/games:

  • Build a cup pyramid with the cups.
  • Build a tower with the cups and plates.
  • Blow cups across (and off) the table using straws.
  • Move tissue paper squares from one plate to another using a straw.
The curriculum suggested using a timer and challenging kids to do tasks in one minute (or other designated time). We didn't use a timer and just let the kids explore.

They did build towers and variations on pyramids.

They blew the cups across the table. One boy figured that two straws would be better than one.

But he learned that one kept the air more focused.

He did move the paper with a straw. 

And then with multiple straws.

It was interesting to see the children explore and experiment. After trying the suggested challenges, the children began to create their own challenges and games. (See the straw tossing game post.)

I think that children are looking for challenges, things that cause them to think and to try new things. Gather some familiar items and create games or challenge your children to create games. If your children are older or want more challenge, add in a timer. But I'll bet more of your kids will enjoy just playing and creating new games.

Maybe the group I have now is different. Every time we play a game they seem to want to invent new rules or new ways to play. But I remember what both David Elkind and Peter Gray said about games. Games are a way that children begin to understand rules; they begin to understand how to function in society, in a community. 

Your challenge games can help preschoolers develop skills to be good citizens later in life. 

Not bad for a few straws, cups, and plates.