Thursday, November 26, 2015

T Is For Turkey

I try to write down the "quotable quotes" my students say on a regular basis, I'm sure I will have acquired enough for a book in no time. This week's quote came from a 4 year old in response to previewing Mother Goose Time's special Thanksgiving activity guide.

"Kairu sensei, a brown peacock!"
The funnier part is that other teachers asked multiple ages of Japanese students what animal this picture represents, and they ALL said,"Peacock!" As Americans, we take for granted things that are ingrained in our cultural celebrations that other countries have no familiarity with. Case it point, turkeys! Since they are native to North America it's completely understandable that people on the other side of the world would mistake them for their frilly feathered cousins.

Being in Japan, where there are no turkeys (or goldfish crackers), necessitated a few modifications to the Thanksgiving activities provided by MGT. It was still a fun-filled day with lots of opportunities to learn and practice new words and ideas. 

We read The THANKFUL Book by Todd Parr (my favorite children's book author) and talked about the many things we're thankful for. Sadly, we ran out of time to add our colorful feathers to our "I am thankful" turkey poster. 

For centers, they used bubble wrap and ink pads to make "fancy" corn prints. Nine out of ten children managed to NOT get ink all over their  hands in the process. Woohoo! The kids were a bit perplexed when I told them that Indian corn is not generally used for eating at Thanksgiving, but mostly for decoration. They were satisfied with the edible corn options used later in the turkey snack. 

 In the math center, they counted and added turkey manipulatives and "fancy" foam corn beads. 

Instead of "turkey bowling", as suggested in the activity guide, I cut out the 10 turkeys and let each child choose what number they wanted to tape on the letter "T" page of their little journals. I differentiated the journal activity for the varying skill levels. The results were totally adorable! Number 9 "ran away" so I copied the #6 turkey and turned it upside down. OOPS! 

Finally, we made a very Japanese version of the turkey snack, with dried edemame, and fall shaped crackers (the Japanese equivalent of goldfish crackers) for the feathers. Japan loves their popcorn, so the kids had plenty of options. They got to choose between regular, cheesy, or "apple pie" flavored popcorn to fill up the rest of the turkey glove. I discovered that teaching them the turkey call actually turned out to be quite a tongue twister for preschoolers. They kept saying,"Gobble, bobble!" It was too cute! 

Although I am missing celebrating my favorite holiday with family on the other side of the world, I am thankful for the opportunity I have to teach these wonderful students about turkeys...and all the other important stuff!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Clean Energy, Engineering, and Fine Motor Skills

Our November On The Go from MGT has layers and layers of learning opportunities in all areas. I have several students, one in particular, that I could easily see, even at 4-5 yrs old, pursuing some sort of engineering career in the future. I see the most advanced planning, team work, and creative problem solving in un-structured free play time at the beginning of each day. This kind of play requires not only cognitive skills, but also steady hands, so as not to topple everything over (unless that is ultimately the intention, which it sometimes is).

Roads & Bridges & Ramps (and Service Stations)

So many vehicles waiting in line at the service station!

The car craft had science embedded in it, and even language/vocabulary building with a discussion about clean gasoline made from corn (ethanol - they loved that big word!) They used big and small muscles to pound the corn, and then pinch it to place it on the glue after they colored the car. It's a bit tricky to punch the die-cut shapes out of the paper without tearing the important pieces, but the kids are learning to pay special attention to their strength when doing so, and we only had one minor tear.

Some children chose to color the car before they punched it out, and thus wanted to keep the "windows, so we taped them on one side, enabling them to be "up" or "down". 

Centers featured car related fine-motor activities including play-dough and molds, "driving" through colored ink pads to make tire tracks on paper, and writing the letter "C" in their little journals. We used the hands on letters to trace big "C" and little C". Some students decided to make finger print cars, while others filled the letters with lots of colors. 

Looking so studious, tracing swirly lines

With each day's lesson, they continue to build on to their existing knowledge and skills sets, and they are always so excited to discover how all of it is "works" together!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Off We Go To Sky Park

We took our learning on the road (literally) Friday, with a field trip to a nearby park that sits right along the runway for Osaka airport. On the way we watched for roads, traffic signs, and bridges. (and even got a sneak peek at the map of the park) The kids were SO excited to experience the things we've been talking about in week 1 of MGT's On The Go theme.


Someone spotted Spider Man perched on the corner of a car detailing building. :)

Once at the park, the kids alternated between watching the planes take off and land,  climbing on the giant jungle gym and through an enclosed rope maze. We had picnic for lunch and had some great discussion about the differences in the planes we saw, why some planes were louder that others. We talked about the size of the engine in relation to the size of the plane, and why big planes needed more space to take off than small planes. They also had fun identifying the letters of the airline on the tail of the planes, and even asked what the letters meant. So, I told them about acronyms, which is pretty complex concept for preschool, but they were quite intrigued by it. 

We also talked about the different jobs people have at the airport, and the importance of the air traffic control tower. They speculated as to where the planes might be going, and one student shared that his dad is a pilot, but he was unsure about the specifics of the job. 

It was quite a windy and cloudy day. Thankfully the rain held off until I called the kids to line up to head back to bus and return to school. The kids were so excited to tell their parents about our adventures at Sky Park when they were picked up! Such a fun learning experience outside the walls of the classroom!

Friday, November 13, 2015

On The Move

We're learning all about places we go and the machines that get us there with Mother Goose Time theme "On The Go" this month. All while flexing our muscles and moving our bodies in activities that incorporate movement, music, literacy, and math. Let's face it, preschoolers are in constant motion anyways, why not harness that energy for some active learning fun??!!

Week one starts with roads and traffic signs. We have two red tape lines on the floor left over from Sports Day practice in October, which the kids like to "drive" on, pretend to walk tight rope, or play follow the leader during large group time. We played a really fun game with the orange "construction sign" game cube, in which I would toss the cube and either call out the action, or someone would look at the word and read it, and everyone would do what it said. The cube kept landing on "jump" and "hop on one foot" multiple times, so someone decided to see how high they could count while jumping. The whole class joined in and they counted all the way up to 50 before they started to fatigue and fall over. (then pretend to nap on the floor)

I don't have lunch duty this year because I teach another class, so I never get to go to the park with my littles for recess. Since we were talking about traffic signs, I took them out after morning meeting for a little walk down the street to the crosswalk where they go to the park. We observed signs along the way, and other safety measures and talked about what they meant. We also had a discussion about how signs and traffic lights are different in America and Japan. It was a great active learning experience for both teacher and students! 

We brought it back inside for centers and they set up a mini "neighborhood" with our new MGT traffic sign manipulatives. They added cars later, but had fun just moving the sign around to different areas on the rug.

They really like dancing to the Boogie Woogie song (track 1 - On The Go CD), I think it's largely due to the fact that they think "boogie" is such a funny word! The Wheels On The Bus version that is on the same CD is also a favorite. There is definitely no shortage of ways to keep these guys groovin' and movin' with "On The Go!" 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Where Is Jesus?

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

I started mentally collecting "quotes of the day" pretty early this morning and it soon became obvious that there were just too many nuggets for a a typical short facebook post. Prepare to have your heart melted!

We started a new Mother Goose Time theme today (On The Go), which also corresponds with our new Bible story, The Little Children Come to Jesus. This is pretty much my favorite story of Jesus! The first activity in the devotional, before actually reading the story, was a little "hide and seek" game, in which I took the story card that showed Jesus with all the children, put it somewhere in the room while everyone had their eyes [mostly] closed, and then said,"OK, open your eyes! Can you find Jesus?" It was comical to watch them looking high and low, in drawers, and under tables, when the picture was actually "hiding" in plain sight. It took some longer than others to find the picture each time, but the ones who "found Jesus" first, helped point their friends in the right direction. And they had so much fun!!

After we returned to the carpet from our adventures of finding Jesus, we read the story. I posed the question,"Where is Jesus?" Here were the responses:

Child 1: "On the mountain!"
Child 2: "In people."
Child 3: "In Jesus' house! Jesus house is big, Big, BIG!"

I asked Child 3 where Jesus' house is, to which he replied,"In the sky."
"In heaven?" I asked. "Yes! Heaven!" We then talked about why Jesus has SUCH a big house, that He has special place prepared for each us. (I see the addition of Audio A's Big House in our song rotation in the near future)

We talked about how sometimes we can see Jesus, but even when we don't see Him, He is always with us. After some further discussion about where we can find Jesus, I asked,"What would you like to talk to Jesus about today?" I mostly ask this to generate thoughts and ideas, so as not to thank Jesus for zebras and "bare necessities" for the 600th time. (although I'm sure Jesus does not object to such grateful sentiments)

Child 4's hand shot up in the air:"YES!"
Me: "What do you want to say to Jesus?"
Child 4: "YES!!"
Me: "What will you say "yes" to Jesus about...that you will listen for His voice and follow Him?" (we talked about the story of the Good Shepherd last month)
Child 4: "Yes! Follow Him!"

Each child then had an opportunity to pray before I said the closing prayer. Most of these conversations with Jesus are unintelligible to me, because they typically choose to kneel and pray face down into the carpet. We just say,"AMEN" in agreement, and assume Jesus got the important details.

Throughout the day, they were singing familiar songs, and making up their own songs to Jesus as they played, all the way up to dismissal time.

So, where is Jesus? Today He was found in preschool in Japan.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Meaningful Writing in Preschool

“The expert at anything was once a beginner.” ― Helen Hayes

It's hard to believe that we are nearly 2/3 of the way through the school year in Japan! In just the past 2 months since returning from summer break, and beginning our learning adventures with Mother Goose Time curriculum, I have seen so much growth and development in so many areas of my students. One skill that I particularly enjoy teaching, and observing as it develops, is writing. 

Since I had several not-yet-3-year-olds at the beginning of the year, and one child that already turned 5, the range of development was quite broad. But, we have moved from hand-over-hand guidance with some, to everyone learning to making their own meaningful marks on their paper. The MGT little journals offer lots of opportunity to hone writing skills with activities that combine numbers, letters, words, and shapes, with lots of room for individuality. 

They traced 5 square blocks, then turned it into a picture
Same child's journal from September (top) and October (bottom)
Beginning to label his own work

Writing is not limited to paper and pencil, though, and it's not just about "practicing" letters in isolation. The literacy cards and art projects in the MGT curriculum can be used to promote writing in so many different ways that are meaningful, engaging, and fun. 

When it comes to literacy activities, I am never at a loss for ideas, but having an framework and suggested ways to use materials in the MGT teacher planning guide makes it SO much easier to actually implement the things I want to do. 

Rings of a Tree Trunk - Scaffolded Writing Technique (3 yr old)
I also really appreciate the versatility of materials, so I can use them in a way that works for my class, if not exactly as recommended. For instance, we had an "in house" Pumpkin Patch Party, with no outside guests, so I used the provided sign-in sheet in place of our regular sign-in page for students to write their names independently. They usually have a lot more space to work with, so I was impressed by how well the were able to adjust the size of their writing. 

The orchard postcards they wrote yesterday were perfect for showcasing their different stages of writing development. They were so proud of the finished product and couldn't wait to take it home and give it to the person for whom it was written. I almost didn't want to send them home, they were so cute! 

We had "Nut Day" (walnuts & chestnuts) so I couldn't pass up the opportunity
to teach them about buckeyes, too! O-H-I-O!!

These beginner writer's will surely be experts in no time at all!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Art of Process (Art)


noun \ˈärt\
: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings
: works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings
: the methods and skills used for painting, sculpting, drawing, etc.
:  skill acquired by experience, study, or observation 

There are quite a few process art (read:messy) projects in the MGT curriculum, and the past week, or couple weeks, I have tried to both contain the mess & chaos while also observing student response and participation. Therein lies the difference between how adults and children approach multi-step, multi-sensory creative projects. 

But, when we as teachers try to control the process too much, and thus control the "look" of the final product, it's a bit like the scenario of magazines and agencies "over-editing" or photo-shopping models and actresses so much that they publicly start to disassociate with those images that aren't a true representation of their "work". So it is preschool. If a child feels like their creativity or exploration in art is not accepted as valid, then they disassociate themselves from the final product. It might look nice, but they don't view it as their own work, so they don't show pride in it. 

Cherry Trees: 

I particularly enjoyed watching the "evolution" of the cherry blossom tree project. Because we didn't have copious amounts of brown paint to begin with, Instead of painting each child's entire arm, I traced their hand/forearm on the paper and allowed them to finger paint the trunk and leaves. This gave them the freedom to add branches, experiment with color mixing, and get messy without wasting materials. There was so much joy happening at the table! (coincidentally enough, the "joy" fruit of the spirit was represented as cherries in this month's Experience God devotional). Even mishaps like un-popped popcorn kernels were embraced as a natural part of the project when one student decided they should be "cherries" on the tree. Several other students loved this idea, and added cherries to their work as well. 

 Orange Juice, Plumb Pie, and Porcupines

When your only instructions for artistic boundaries are "keep the paint on the paper, not on the table" there is lots of room for creativity! But also giving children choice in what they use to create, or how they use materials (blowing vs. "drawing" with the straw, or paint/crayon/marker) deepens their sense of "self" created art. The fewer parameters and more choice allowed in the process, the greater the joy IN the process and pride in the final product. I typically hand out take-home (3-D) projects when everyone is sitting on the steps for dismissal. This time allows them to "show and tell" with other school staff and administrators while they wait for parents. Flat art is displayed either in the hallway, or in the classroom, often with a description (with ideas taken from group discussion) written on a sentence strip and posted under the art work. 

Art, like life, is messy. It's a learning process, influenced by how we see ourselves and the world around us. Process art helps children not only learn about creative expression, but also life lessons. For instance, mistakes are not the end of the process, and they don't necessarily "ruin" the final product. Rather, they can be seen as "happy little accidents" (thanks, Bob Ross) that provide deeper complexity and can be turned into something beautiful.