Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sometimes.... We Craft

Painting seed pods to hang as ornaments on the Christmas tree- Craft.
Anytime you have a preconceived idea of what you are making, it is no longer truly about the process.  Regardless of how "open ended" you think you are making the craft, if it has a purpose or an expected end product, in my mind... it is no longer child-centered art. One way or another because you have given it a name or a specific outcome you drive the product. I don't think that you can always separate art from craft or craft from art, because the two are so delicately intertwined. I think that rather than a definitive black and white separation, we are dealing with various shades of gray. I am by no means saying that craft has no merit, as you will soon read, sometimes... we craft, but most of the time, we strive for process art.
Rolling paint on plexi-glass - art
There are a lot of things I see other educators doing with children, that simply do not fit with my philosophy. For example, I don't believe that coloring pages are for children. I don't think that children need to learn how to stay inside the lines, I in fact prefer that they do not. I love to see the evolution of their drawings, and to give them the freedom to create from their being, without the confinements of what something "should" look like. In fact, the word should ought to be taken right out of our vocabulary, as should = shame. (Thank you Partner's Institute for giving me the gifts of communication, and understanding that how we choose our words really does matter.)
Art of course is about the process, so when a child decides to to paint themselves instead of the paper, it is still art!
I love that the art the children create is about being in the moment, and really enjoying the doing, and just being rather than having to have some profound meaning or symbolism. As adults, we could really learn a lot more about the important things in life from children, of just being in the moment, and letting the paint brush take us away.... It doesn't always have to be about something, it doesn't always have to have a destination, or an objective, it is about enjoying the journey and the exploration, sometimes with unexpected twists and turns. Maybe you will choose to keep the touch stone or memento of your work, or perhaps the experience will be just a memory, but with art it truly is all about the process.
This craft requires patience and good hand-eye coordination.  Beads on a pipe cleaner make a great holiday ornament.
Craft, on the other hand, has a definite purpose. You go into a craft with the thought and expectation of having a finished product. Some crafts are very rigid, they require precise patterning and a specific skill set. They require you to master the use of real tools, and although there are some variations and opportunity to add artistic elements, in the end, your goal is to have something tangible.
Craft: Sewing our own "pizza" and play food for the kitchen area.
I'm learning and growing when it comes to crafting with young children. I have to admit in my early years as an educator, I was a sheep. I did what everyone else was doing, because it seemed like the right thing to do. I spent hours cutting out shapes and pieces for the children, designing the perfect "projects" for the children, all in line with our letter or theme for the week. Most of them were "cute."  You know, I never made the children do their project exactly a like, but when the teacher does most of the work, or drives the product, creativity is lost. I was a big fan of having the easel open, but even then we primarily only used paint brushes.
Who wants to paint with brushes when there are so many other interesting things to paint with and on!
I've come a long way in the last decade or so..... I've come to realize that the children are far more capable than we typically give them credit for. I no longer plan projects that take me hours to prepare that take the children less than 10 minutes to complete, but sometimes we still craft.  I like to think that our crafting today is more on the process end of the spectrum, but not completely art.  I know that some early childhood educators are not a big fan of craft for children. In some respects I agree, but there are a few reasons why I believe it has merit and continue to give children experiences with crafting.
Threading beads to make an icicle craft. 
First, I think that our world has become far too commercial. Children have very little concept of how things are made or where we get things from other than the store. Crafting gives children an opportunity to make something of use with their own hands. When we give them the opportunity to work with real tools, and to guide them in their safe explorations, they come to the understanding that we can create rather than buy. We can reuse, upcycle, repurose, and make something wonderful.
Using a hammer and nail to "tin" punch a juice can lid ornament craft.
I give the children real tools to use. The preschool children use saws, hammers, screwdrivers, sanders, and drills. They use scissors, needles, yarn, thread and my sewing machine. They use the hot glue gun. They learn how to safely use real tools, and they learn how to respect and care for themselves and others while they manage the risks of crafting.

Rubber glove and various other supplies used to craft finger puppets.
They learn how to follow directions, and make creative choices that may slightly veer from the norm, but all within the safety guidelines. This is where the art and craft can mesh. The child can still have the freedom to choose what to make and which tools they would like to use. They can determine how to create, and when they need assistance, we can help to guide them in the direction they choose by supplying resources and sharing our experiences and techniques. We must be careful not to drive the direction for the child, only to share what we know, supply the resources, and be there to support as they need it.
Painting with melted crayon and a blow dryer- process art.
Regardless of how we approach a project, children will find success. How they find success will be up to you.  Giving them the opportunity to find it from within because they have made the choices and built the skills will be far more valuable to that child than the quick "success" they have gained because you have done more of the work for them, or driven them to an end product that may look like something, but is not truly a work of their own. Please also remember that success is subjective, how you define success is, I'm sure quite different from how I would. Allow the children to be successful in their own terms, and in their own time.
Taking apart discarded cribs, a great way to learn how to use tools.
Let children process and enjoy art without the confinements of craft until they express an interest in moving to craft. "I want to make a .... " is a good indication that they are ready. This does not mean that you cannot give children an opportunity to learn how to use real tools prior to this time. Giving them tinkering experiences of taking things apart and putting things together will guide their skill development, so that when they express the interest, they will be competent, they will be ready.
Homemade stamps craft.
I run across so many cute crafts, and I often still find myself fighting the urge to do some of them with the children. I have found that self-reflection often helps when it comes to determining if the craft really has value to the children. Ask yourself:

  • How much prep time would this take? (From Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady... If it takes you longer to prepare than the children will be engaged, it is not process art. In my mind if this is the case.. it is not worth it.) 
  • What value does it have? Or in other words, what skills is it promoting and are they really developmentally appropriate? and are these tackled in a real way?
  • How much choice does the child have? Am I stifling their opportunities to be create, explore, learn, and grow?
  • IF the craft teaches valuable skills, is there another way to approach this that allows the child more freedom and meets the same skill set? 
  • How would I feel if this activity was presented to me? Is it boring? Are there too many guidelines? How much freedom to I have? 
Recycled glass jar luminary craft.
I have spent a lot of time in my journey has an early childhood educator exploring, growing, and learning, coming to conclusions of what I believe to be true, and the best path for the children I work with. You won't ever see a wall of nearly identical pumpkins or coloring sheets on our walls. You will rarely see hand print art (on occasion, a school aged child will come back and introduce the concept to the other children, and we often do have hand prints in our stepping stones). 
Our annual stepping stones craft.
 I know that we all come to the table with different skills sets and philosophies, but I hope it makes you think about how you engage children in art and craft. I know that as time passes, I take more and more care considering the opportunities I present to children. I know on this blog, you will probably find much more craft than art, but I have also come to realize how much easier it is to document and show you a craft process.... as with a craft, so much of the process is the same. Crafts make for easy tutorials!
Having an open art station instead of a planned "project" or limited materials available = More process child-driven art.
Having materials readily available for the children to choose to engage with will lead you to more process based art, with a bit of craft thrown in!  

Have you thought about how much time do you spend on the product- often teacher led crafts verses the child-centered art based projects? 

If you have a different viewpoint, I'd love to hear your perspective. I love it when another professional gives me food for thought, challenging my beliefs and inviting me to continue to learn and grow.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read ART "The Product- A Celebration of the Process." 

2011 Edublog Awards!

Yep, it is that time of year. Time to nominate your favorite blogs for the 2011 Edublog Awards!

I learned about this wonderful opportunity to nominate blogs last year when some of my favorite blogs were nominated and won in various categories!  This year, I decided to nominate a few folks myself (and you can do the same by visiting the site and creating a blog posts with your nominations!).

I have been considering my nominations for a couple of weeks now, and let me tell you, there are so many wonderful blog out there, coming to one nomination for each category has been a bit painstaking. I have grown so much from the influence many of you wonderful bloggers have imparted through sharing your passion and joy of early learning. So, before I move on to my list, I just want to thank you all!

Now, in no particular order... my nominations:

Best Educational Use of Social Network:  Deborah Stewart - Teach Preschool on Facebook. 
Deborah has over 25,000 followers from all over the world on her Facebook page. She shares wonderful links and encourages discussion every day. I think it would be nearly impossible to measure the enormous impact she has on the field of early childhood education. I know that I have personally found many new ideas, challenged my philosophy, participated in meaningful discussions, and had the opportunity to grow, learn, and share through the community she has created. If you are an early childhood educator, homeschooler, parent of young children, or anyone who has interest in the field of early childhood education, this page is definitely one you will want to follow, and Deborah also has a great blog too!

Jennifer's blog was one of the first blogs I started to follow. For awhile there, I bet she thought I was a creepy  cyber stalker. I honestly could not get enough of her blog posts and the inspiration she was providing for wonderful outdoor spaces where children could grow and learn. If I had not run across her blog, I don't know if our outdoor space would have been transformed into the bustling, humming, busy learning zone that it is today.  With each new idea or area she talked about, I would find myself scouring the web for additional ideas and inspiration, tweaking the ideas to make them work for me.  I think our philosophy of childhood and education are very similar, and as she once commented, it is almost like we are living similar lives on opposite ends of the globe. She also once wrote me, "I'm just an early childhood teacher...," but Jenny is so much more. Through her love of teaching and sharing she is influencing the field of early childhood education all around the globe. 

Abbie does a great job of reminding folks that learning starts from birth. She has graciously been sharing her journey as she teaches her young children about the natural world around us. She has been providing great activities, sharing her success and challenges on a daily basis. I know that I have been inspired to try many of the things she has shared (bird feeding/watching, animal tracks, etc), and I love that she is one of the joint hosts of an outdoor play link up! Oh, and did I mention that she has a phenomenal list of books for young children?  If you have not had an opportunity to check out Abbie's blog, please take a moment to do so. I promise you, it will be well worth your time.

Best Group Blog: Childhood 101
Christie Burnett and the crew over at Childhood101 really keep the inspiration flowing! They have a fantastic blog, a wonderful playopedia resource (hundreds of links and ways to play!) , and a phenomenal e-zine: Play, Grow, Learn!  I have to admit, that I have not been a follower of Childhood 101 for as long as I have followed the other blogs named above, but I wish there were more hours in the day so that I could scour through more of the archives! If you are looking for some great ideas on how to incorporate more learning through play, make sure that Childhood101 is on your list of places to visit!

Best Open PD/uconference/webinar series: Early Childhood Investigators
I have been so impressed by the number and variety of free webinars offered by Early Childhood Investigators. As a trainer, and early childhood educator in a rural area, it is wonderful to see such an incredible quality resource made available for the life long learners in our field.

Best New Blog:  Kierna Corr - Learning for Life
Kierna has only been blogging since January, but she has an adventurous spirit and continually shares her experiences working with, teaching and learning from young children.  I love to see all of the playful learning activities she has to share, the joy on the children's faces and her persistence in promoting outdoor play no matter what the weather.

Most Influential Blog Post: Teacher Tom - Spoiled Brats
I don't think I've run across a post from Teacher Tom that didn't touch a nerve in some way. Most of the time, it has been an "ah-ha" or a "why didn't I think of that?" type of nerve. Tom has an eloquent way with words, and the experiences he shares as he works with young children often make you want to take action, or even pack up and move to Seattle! I had a hard time choosing a post for this category, because in all honesty, there are so many wonderful posts that Tom has written that have been influential. I loved his post on Aggressive and Violent, but I think this one, on Spoiled Brats tops it by just a smidge. Hop on over and check them out.

Best Tech Ed/Resource Sharing Blog: Donna Burns and Sherry Hutton - Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning
This former teaching duo, now taking their love of learning and education on the road has an amazing site for sharing their early childhood education resources with the world. The site title could not be more fitting. Sherry and Donna have amazing ideas and suggestions for their readers, bringing child-centered, play-based activities to the forefront of their agenda. In addition to their wonderful blog, you can also find them on Facebook! On a personal note, Donna and I were able to make a soap swap. I found out that she was unable to obtain Ivory Soap in Australia, and I could not find soap flakes here, so we swapped resources! You will not find a duo more willing to share their bountiful resources with the world!

Best Twitter Hashtag: #playoutdoors
I have to admit, I'm still a little twitter shy. I haven't quite mastered the world of twitter yet, but that doesn't keep me from hopping over there every once and awhile! When I do, it is wonderful to see all of the conversation and resource sharing around the topic of outdoor play supported by the community using the #playoutdoors hash tag.

Best Class Blog: Journey Into Unschooling
Not all classes are confined to the walls of a school room, some of us prefer to hold our classes at home, or embrace the fact that the world is our classroom.  This wonderful blog follows a family with four children and their parents through their learning adventures as unschoolers. Most of you know that we homeschool here, and I follow oodles of homeschooling blogs, this one is definitely at the top of my favorites!

Whew! That took longer than I expected. Time to hit the book again! I hope you enjoy perusing my nominations as much as I do! If you are interested in making nominations, you can do so by following the Edublogs link but you need to make sure that you do it by December 2nd!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I'm swamped.
It will all be done on December 14.
"Normalcy will then resume."
I'm still posting occasional photos on our Facebook page, 
but don't anticipate having time to post much here until   I'm done!

I will be happy to share my work with you when it is complete. If any of you have worked on research comparing online and traditional/classroom style training sessions, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Collaborative Blogging Efforts!

My first contribution to the PreK and K Sharing blog has some tips for working with mixed ages of children and has posted this morning, hop on over and check it out!

PreK + K Sharing

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bev Said, "Do This On Monday!" - Oil, Water, and Salt

I know that some of you are dying to hear what I have to say after spending the day with Bev Bos and Michael Leeman a couple of Fridays ago. Don't worry, I will have plenty to share in good time....  (that master's project is almost done... I'm just a few weeks away.....)
That Friday was a great day, I traveled to Chicago to attend the training session. 
Who wouldn't have a great day when it starts off in a place like this?
 I don't feel like I necessarily learned a lot of new things while I was there, but it was very affirming. We have very similar philosophies on a lot of topics, and it is always nice to cross paths with folks who share your love and concern for the children and those who work with them. (I did pick up a great resource book, a book on finger plays, and 5 new cds! All of which are being heavily used!)
One thing that Bev encouraged us all to do right away on Monday was to set out some supplies and let the children mix.....

Glass Jars
Cups of Oil
food coloring (optional)

Those of you who have attended my science workshops know that we like to do this with alka seltzer. I didn't realize that it works so well with table salt!  You might want to make sure that you set out a thick layer of newspaper or a drop cloth. I didn't, but it does make quite a mess.

Give each child a glass jar to experiment in. Glass jars are real, and children will take care when using them. If you use plastic ones, they may be too cloudy to see what is going on.  Allow the children to do the experimenting. Let them pour. (Remember that most children will not yet be able to conserve, so plan for overflows...)

Give them small cups or containers of oil. I used baby food containers and had them sitting on the table with all of the the other supplies.
I also had bowls of table salt sitting out. Some of the children poured the salt in, others added it pinch by pinch.
It was a great day for mixing, why don't the oil and water mix.... I know.... it is because we need a spoon. We need to stir it up!
Stir, stir, stir.....
When you stir it fast enough... you get a whirlpool! 
(Sorry for the lack of photo quality today, I was using my phone instead of the good camera...)
What happens when you add the salt?
Lots and lots of cool bubbles!
The photos really don't give this activity justice, you'll just have to try it yourself and see!

Can we save this? I think they will mix on Thursday and I have a cool experiment to try with them on Thursday.  So, our jars sit until Thursday. 

Bev allows the children to bag up their experiments and take them home. I had bags on hand, but none of the children asked to take them home, so we didn't bag ours up. 

Some of the children needed to use too much food coloring. squeezing the bottles is great for their fine motor skills. You don't have to make it available, and I would recommend adding it later, after the children have had the opportunity to see what happens when you mix the other ingredients.  When they use too much, the water gets dark and it is more difficult to see the bubbles, but please don't let that stop you from letting them do it! They need to use too much before they learn to use just a little. Also, make sure you have an ample stock of supplies. They will want to try this over and over and over again....

I will have more photos and videos of our exploration up on our Facebook page soon! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Adventures

I'm getting closer to the end of my final project. I can start to see light at the end of the tunnel.... and that means that I'll be back here more often! (Trust me, I would much rather be blogging than writing up an annotated bibliography.... ) I have oodles of photos and activities to share with you, and I will get back to that soon!

I wanted to let you all know that I am expanding my reach and will be working on a number of collaborative efforts in the near future. Watch for my first post on this collaborative blog to publish on Wednesday:

PreK + K Sharing

If you are not already following, please hop on over and check it out! This blog will have a different author each day of the month and will offer many different topics and interests for those of you who have or work with young children.

Also, just an FYI- If you didn't know already.... Our backyard butterflies were featured in the Fall Edition of the Connections for a Great Start publication. Hopefully, the online version will be available soon and I can pass that link along to you!

Okay, back to my paper... more posts coming soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This year, we planted sunflowers. 
Unfortunately, one of my flaws happens to be that I cannot for the life of me keep any flower alive! I don't know how I manage to kill them, but for some reason, I am not very successful when it comes to flowers! 
(Now, vegetables on the other hand... I have no problem with, go figure!) 
We had three wonderful sunflowers sprout and SURVIVE in our rock garden!!! 
(It is probably a good thing I was too busy to take care of them and just let nature run it's course!)
A couple of the flower heads disappeared. I set them out on the front porch bench. Perhaps they were carried away by our feathered or furry friends. Fortunately, one of them remained for us to investigate.
We checked it out with some magnifying glasses, 
and then we decided to tear it up... I wonder what it looks like inside.......
What are all of these little black things?
Ever wonder what a cross section would look like?
We tasted a few seeds, they were yummy! 
We used some of the plant parts to print with (sorry no photos)
and then we added the remains back into one of our tire planters in the front garden. 
Hopefully the birds will help us out again next year and we will have some more sunflowers to explore!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Calling All Presenters!!!!!

The deadline for proposals for the 2012 UP Early Childhood Conference to be held April 13-14, 2012, at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan is approaching! You have until December 16, 2011 to submit your proposal!   Hop on over the to conference website for more information!

I'm going to make this really easy for you, and embed the form for you right here! (But you can also find it on the organization's page!)   If you are having trouble viewing the form on this page, please visit the form link.  I hope to see you at this year's conference!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sticky Business

We have done this activity quite a few times, but I have never blogged about it! We always have so many fun things going on, that often you only get a small glimpse here! I first saw this at the U.P. Early Childhood Conference from Dr George Forman during a showing one of the Videatives
The concept is quite simple. You use a piece of clear contact paper, sticky side up. Sometimes I have used duct tape to hold it down and sometimes I have used clear packaging tape. It doesn't really matter, you just need something to hold the paper down with. 
The tactile contact with this sticky paper is wonderful sticky business for little ones to explore! This little guy kept going back to explore the sticky surface. It kept him engaged in learning exploration on and off for almost two hours! He wasn't the only one there to explore. Even the older children stopped by to play with the sticky patch. 
Will my sock stick? How about a few of the toys? How strong is this sticky paper? 

Deborah Stewart over at Teach Preschool is starting a monthly link up of every day sensory play! How cool is that! You all know that I have oodles and oodles of sensory play posts, and I think this linky is going to be a great resource for finding new ideas and being reminded of older ones!
Every Day Sensory Play

I am linking this post up. Here is a list of other sensory play activities that are some of our favorites:
Water Beads/Gems
Great Explorations in Mud!
Slime Off!
Super Stove Top Slime Off!
Fabulous Floam
Holiday Greens
Sensory Salts
Clean Mud
Worms, Worms, Worms!
Shaving Cream
Moon Sand
Ice Cubes
Kool-Aid Painting and Play Dough
Real Mud
Experimenting with Hydraulics

And, there are so many more! Check the archives!

You can also find oodles of ideas through my Pinterest Boards!

This one has a ton of posts to go along with my "Sense"-ational Learning Fun Training Session:
"Sense"-ational Learning Fun

and this one is a collection of sensory ideas I have found from around the web:
Sensory Fun

What have you done today to help promote children learning through their senses?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Table Tutorials

I've had a lot of questions in regard to our pvc pipe sensory tables and plexi-glass table top.

I actually made a handout for one of my training sessions in regard to both our sensory tables and our light tables. You can download a pdf version of it here. (I don't have dimensions, as it will all depend on the bin you choose for the table. Perhaps I will get a better tutorial up soon with the exact dimensions if you order your tub from Home Depot.)

We actually have 3 tables. The one you have been seeing recently with the plexi-glass on top of it is made with 1 1/4" diameter pvc pipe and has a little bit different design than the one shown on the handout. (When I switched to a different cement mixing tub, I also switched the design a little bit). I found a lot of inspiration from other sites, and merged ideas to come up with my design.
This version is a little more like a wheelbarrow... It is going to have wheels on two of the legs.  It is also a bit different because it doesn't have an arm that holds the tub up, it has a full layer to support it. 
I'll see what I can do to get a few better photos when I'm back home!
(I'm in Chicago right now, ready for a great day with BEV BOS tomorrow!!! (Can you tell I'm excited???))

In regard to the plexi-glass table top we have.... Well, all it is are two sheets of plexi glass that I place over the frame of the table. They are not connected to it in any way. I'll have to measure the plates for you when I get home, but they are upcycled plates that we took out of some of the cribs that were donated by a friend of mine because they could no longer be used with the new standards for cribs. We took them apart, and have upcycled some of the pieces into things, using the plexi glass as mentioned and making a writing desk here.

I hope this answers most of your questions! One of the great things about the pvc pipe table is that it can easily come apart to be stored. If you are anything like me... storage can be an issue! So, having a table that can easily come apart and be stored, yet be sturdy enough for exploration is ideal!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We have a Climber!

We have a climber! I'm sure you know what I mean, a child who has determined that everything.... tables, shelves, you name it... is meant to be scaled......  So, what is a provider to do? 
Well, some people might say "no climbing" but not here..... 
Rather than saying no to a perfectly developmentally appropriate behavior, we rearranged the environment and added a slide for safe climbing. By giving children a safe way to explore their body development, we are encouraging them to grow, learn, and explore through their interests!
And, if you are going to have an indoor slide... you might as well have an indoor ball pit too!
A swimming pool makes a great ball pit (and group sled too!). But, sometimes you need something bigger than a plastic pool.... So, we used our giant waffle blocks:
 The blocks made a great barrier to keep the balls from rolling all over our floor.
Although, some of our friends had a lot of fun tossing the balls out over the sides.....
Some of our friends spent their time climbing up the slide. Did you know that allowing children to climb up the slide instead of just going down promotes a wide array of skills? They are able to develop upper body strength. They are also often forced to negotiate socially for a turn, using their verbal skills and risk assessment. Slides are GREAT for going up! 
Having a ball pit also lent itself to a wide array of learning exploration. Some children found our soft foam blocks and decided to fill them with balls of corresponding colors.  They decided to count how many they could fit in each upside down block = Teamwork and lots of communication. 
And some people think all we do all day is "play" --  Phhhhhhbbbbbbbt!
Never underestimate the value of exploration and play for children!

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...