Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day!

Once again, the masterful design of Mother Goose Time saved me from a frantic search for the perfect activity to celebrate an uncommon holiday. This time...LEAP DAY!

The timing of our Food and Fitness unit is such that we will conclude the theme in Mid-March, just in time for closing ceremony for the 2015-2016 school year. Friday, as I was looking over the daily topic bags for days 11-15 and racking my brain for fun Leap Day project, I found Day 12 - Jumping, all set and ready to go. The only scrambling I ended up having to do was grabbing more paper and cutting more leap frogs in specially requested colors. Namely, pink. I should have known! Haha.

During free play, one student did "leap counting" by 2 with the number puzzle. She has both a creative and analytical mind, so I was not surprised by what she had come up with when she called me over to see her "work".

At morning meeting, we talked about all the different words we can use for "jump", including hop and LEAP. We discussed what body parts we use for jumping, and did a little exercise experiment in which we all attempted to jump without bending our knees. Then they bent their knees a little bit, and finally a lot, and discussed how that affected the height of their jumps. We looked at the calendar and sang "30 Days Has September" to help clarify why February 29 is such a special day.

I used the movement game that came in the Valentine party pack for small group centers. They had a great time stretching, jumping, and touching their toes. But mostly, they LOVED rolling the giant foam dice!

The Geo Boards provided more opportunity for finger stretching, and sharing with friends. There were some very complex designs, and even a clock! Sadly, the battery on my phone died before I could capture all the amazing creations.

We paired art with literacy today and practiced writing the date on the back of their leap frog head bands. I had inevitable requests for pink frogs (and paint) as well as a red and blue frog, so I cut extra headbands. I had a handful of little plastic frogs from a leap frog game, which we used to "leap" into the paint and paint the frog faces.

I ended up doing a similar version of the same project with the kindergarten boys upstairs. That class drew shaped speckles on their frogs after we read The Five Green Speckled Frogs. They worked together to come up with a list of rhyming words, then wrote some sentences with the words they chose.

We spent the rest of the afternoon playing "leap frog" (also known as hopping around the room bumping into each other) and laughing about Silly Sally, who went to town leaping backwards upside down.

What a fun Leap Day! It's too bad we have to wait another four years to celebrate it again.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sandwiches, Science, and Authentic Assessment

We're on the count down to the end of the school year here in Japan, which means lots of portfolio organization and skills assessment. Mother Goose Time assessment resources make this process relatively painless, and actually fun for both teachers and students. I have a wide range of developmental levels in one classroom, from toddler to pre-primary. The daily activities are easily differentiated for the varying skill levels without me having to put a ton of extra work in. My favorite kind of activities are ones that provide opportunities to assess multiple skills across domains and allow for lots of child creativity in the process.

My principal joked with me today, that every time I come to the office, I share about "the cutest art project" EVERY day. It's pretty much true, though. We are on cute-ness overload daily. 

There's the "sandwich project" in which the children were given pre-cut paper bread pieces and asked to create their favorite kind of sandwich. This is a bit of a tricky question for preschoolers in Japan, because sandwiches are not eaten nearly as often here as in the US. But, their creativity and individual tastes reflected in the final final products really impressed me. I took it a step further and added a literacy component with it. Students either composed or dictated a sentence about their favorite sandwich and we glued it to their picture. I was about to assess fine motor, language, letter knowledge, concept of print, and sequencing all in a relatively short amount of time in the context of one activity. 

We "planted" beans in a zip lock bag and recorded the observations on day one of the science sheet provided. I encourage them to write words or a sentence about their drawing. This activity really challenged them to use good listening skills for following directions as well as complex vocabulary. Math skills ranged from counting 1:1 with 2 beans to counting all the beans by 2. We may have to do some later redistribution of beans that are actually sprouting so nobody feels sad about the rotten beans that got a little too much water.  

Both of these projects will go into the end-of-year portfolio that is given to parents at closing ceremony on the last day of school. It's always fun for me to go back to projects I put in at the beginning of the year to see how their skills have grown and developed. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

V is for Valentine...And Vegetable Bread

It seems in the end-of-year craziness that our lessons and themes have gotten jumbled a bit. But rather than rushing through the "plan" just to cover topics, I decided to linger on the days that the kids were excited about, which also gave us an opportunity to practice more complex speech and language skills, which can be difficult for 2nd language learners.

For example: things that start with the letter V. This is a later acquired sound for native English speakers (5-6 year olds). Factor in a younger audience and the fact that the /v/ sound does not exist in the Japanese language, and this makes for a challenging, and sometimes comical, vocabulary learning experience.

The helpful part is that Valentine's Day is a REALLY big deal in Japan, if only for the commercial marketing of chocolate... But it's celebrated a little differently. On Valentine's Day, it's the girls who give chocolate to the boys. On White Day, which is March 14th, the chocolate giving is reciprocated in favor of the girls. I'm not one to favor commercialized traditions, so we were an "equal opportunity" gift giving class on Valentine's Day.

When I was "home" for Christmas, retailers conveniently put out the Valentine candy as soon as Christmas was over, so I picked up some mini boxes of conversation hearts, which are impossible to find in Japan. Just in case I couldn't get my hands on them, last year I ordered foam conversation heart beads from Oriental Trading Company to use for various activities. I combined them with the heart-shaped letter puzzles that came in the MGT Valentine party pack for a fun matching/sorting/literacy activity.

One trip to the 100 yen store provided all the fun accessories needed for a silly Valentine photo booth. They loved wrapping themselves up in heart garland and posing with friends.

The "love bug" head bands were perfect for our class, which is divided by age group into Honey Bees and Lady Bugs. I modified the project a bit to match those two groups. Totally adorable!!

Holidays are never complete without a "party", which mostly includes something edible served on fancy plates and napkins. Most of the time I try to keep treats as healthy as possible, so we did fruit, cut with heart shaped cookie cutters.

Since Valentine's Day fell on a weekend, we extended our celebration to Monday. I had purchased a couple new books about love, which we read, along with The Prince's Valentine, an adapted Indian folktale, provided in the party pack. Anything with story pieces is always a crowd pleaser, plus I brought in the scarves that go with two of the traditional Indian dresses that I bought when I was in India last May, for the girls to dress up as the Indian princess.

For an open-ended art project, we mixed red and white paint together, and used hearts, circles, and play-dough letter stamps to create a Valentine collage. It was so fun to watch their creative process in deciding how they wanted their pictures to look.

The rest of the week, we talked about grains and vegetables. I have been wanting to try making bread in my crock pot, since I don't have an oven, so I experimented with pumpkin banana bread. The class loved it! There's a recipe I found on, called "Toddler Muffins", that I used to make for a child I nannied for, which is a great way to "hide" vegetables for picky eaters. Lucky for me, all my students love vegetables and they were super excited to make bread together. I made a recipe card modeled after the MGT cards found in the curriculum, so it was easy for the kids to follow. After we mixed it all up, I took the batter home and cooked it in the crock pot. It wasn't quite as pretty as the pumpkin bread, and one student even told the Japanese teacher it looked like poop, but they thought it tasted "very yummy"! I think the fact that we all worked on it together made it taste even sweeter.

I think it's fair to say that the letter V got a lot of LOVE this week!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Strawberry Surprise

I often say that I get my most creative ideas 15 minutes before school starts. This usually follows with running around like crazy, trying to find supplies for the "perfect" project I just thought of (and hoping I actually have the supplies to do it.)

Monday, my first student arrived with a surprise to share with the class. She had gone strawberry picking at an indoor nursery and brought us a box of ENORMOUS strawberries to eat. I immediately decided we should not only have a special activity to eat the strawberries, we should make a whole special day of it!

Our February Food & Fitness box from Mother Goose Time had just arrived, so I pulled out the teacher guide to see what day was "fruit day" (Day 3), found the day 3 bag and VOILA, fun fruit day commenced! No scrambling like a mad woman required.

How perfect that the art project was painting the seeds on a gigantic strawberry??!! We used the real thing as our visual inspiration at the art table. They wanted some sparkle, so I mixed regular paint with green glitter watercolor. It was great to watch them problem solve how to draw the leafy stem, and then cut it out without cutting it into a bunch of tiny pieces.

The strawberry heart sorting game was really fun. Even the baby doll from dramatic play wanted to get in on the action.

I caught a candid moment of several of the boys discussing which of the fruits pictured on the daily topic poster was their favorite.

The literacy center turned into dramatic play when they decided to have a picnic and use the cards as "recipes" for making juice and other treats. (I wouldn't personally recommend the jellyfish sandwich...)

There was a spontaneous dance off on the carpet to the Funky Fruit song, and EVERYBODY wanted to dance to the Banana Boogie. I keep a felt 3 pocket storage pouch on the wall by the CD player that hold all our MGT music, so it's easily accessible whenever I get a specific request for a song.

Eating the ENORMOUS strawberries was the main event, so we made a party of it. (any designated occasion + fancy napkins = Preschool Party)

We capped off the day by reading a Strawberry Shortcake story that, surprisingly enough, related both fruit AND winter (which we are technically still talking about) themes.

Mother Goose Time made for a super, and stress-free (for the teacher), Strawberry Surprise Day!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Snowy Owls and Icicle Houses

Owls are kind of big deal in Japan. There are lots of varieties native to the area, and they can be seen in nature as well as more urban settings, like owl cafes here. Snowy owls aren't common around Osaka, but they have been seen in Hokkaido, which is the northern-most island in Japan. Because of this, we spent several extra days on owls, exploring lots of different books, and watching youtube videos. My class was particularly taken with baby owls.

We read Owl Moon and then they decided what variety of owl (I tried to encourage the snowy ones) they wanted to create for art. I was so impressed with one of my 3 year olds, who spent a solid 30 minutes diligently coloring her ENTIRE owl black. Even after we switched small groups, she stayed at the table until she was finished. It's not often you find one activity that can keep a little one fully and happily engaged in for that long without prompting! Thanks to Mother Goose Time for such an adorable project!

During free play centers, they had owl coloring pages that they decorated freely. I came across this really cute owl poem that counts down from Five Snowy Owls that had reproducible finger puppets to go with it. My favorite moment of the activity was when I was reciting the poem, "Four snowy owls sitting in the tree..." And one of my kiddos interjected,"One fell off and bumped his head!" (Five little monkeys jumping on the bed must have made an impression...) It was hard to keep from laughing at that one!

"Kairu sensei, it's a polka dot snowy owl with angry eyes!"

The math/fine motor owl related activity had the kids build "houses" for the shape owls with the colored shape-builder manipulatives. They made some pretty elaborate structures. If I were an owl, I would want a house like that! 

Our icicle house were inspired by a friend's picture, posted after the winter storm in Nashville, of giant icicles that had formed on the gutters along the edge of her roof. We made a little winter neighborhood scene for display in the hallway. They turned out so cute. While a couple children frequently refer to the example on the art instruction page to complete projects, I love how each child made their icicle house unique.