“This was the best professional development that I have ever been to!” said Tamekia, a teacher at St Benedict’s Child Development Center. What made it the best for Tamekia and her co-workers were a couple of key ideas. One, the training provided opportunities teachers to collaborate, plan and create invitations for learning together. Knowing how valuable time out of the classroom is for her teaching staff, St Benedict’s director Alissa closed the center for two days at the start of the school year to not only discuss new ideas with her teachers but to provide them the opportunity to transform their classrooms so that children felt at home and welcomed. What also made this professional development different than others they had attended was a focus on shared values for teaching. It helped create a unified vision for the center’s environment and experiences they offer children.
Third, the professional development was hands-on. After learning about the importance of providing loose parts (rocks, leaves, buttons, cardboard tubes, etc) in the classroom and creating invitations for play, the teachers took a field trip to Good Garbage: Center for Creative Reuse in Portland to collect materials. Teachers gathered fabric for curtains, pictures frames for displaying children’s artworks, colorful glass bottles to display in classroom windows, cardboard tubes, buttons, tiles, corks, yarn, and zippers. When they returned to the center, each classroom team collaborated to create their first attempt of an invitation to play and add home like touches to their rooms for the children to walk into the next day.
This was more than just a training to attend for annual hours. It was a chance to treat early childhood teachers as the professionals that they are. Professionals who know their children, who are thoughtful about environment, who can see what the children might be interested in and who are intentional about open ended materials and providing experiences that are child-directed and teacher-supported.
To see more photographs from this day, check out our facebook photo album.
|Center Name:||Goodwill of Southern Indiana Children’s Learning Center|
|Classroom Age Group:||Preschool (4 years old)|
|Years of Teaching Experience:||13 years|
|Years in the Excellence Academy:||2 years|
|Highest Education Level Achieved:||Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education|
What is one of your favorite things about teaching young children?
|I teach for all of the “little” reasons…hugs, excitement, reading books, imagination, curiosity, listening to four year old stories, aha moments, smiles, laughter and many more. I love inspiring a lifelong love of learning and knowing I am making a difference in the lives of children.|
How has the Excellence Academy changed you, your classroom environment, your knowledge of early childhood development and your teaching practices and strategies?
|The Excellence Academy has changed my way of thinking from a teacher directed approach to a child led approach. It has helped me to understand the importance of social and emotional development. The children are learning to express their emotions and problem solve. Also my classroom is continuing to change from a commercial product, plastic and primary color filled room to a more homelike setting with natural elements.|
What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?
|On the weekends, I love spending time with my husband Chris and our 6 year old daughter Annabelle.|
What would be impossible for you to give up?
|It would be impossible for me to give up reading. I love to read!!!|
How do you want to be remembered?
|I would like to be remembered as a loving wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter and teacher.|
Providing nontraditional materials for the block area invites children to test out new ways of balancing, stacking, building and creating structures. It can spark the interest of children who might not normally spend a lot of time with blocks or create opportunities for cooperative play as children explore a new material.
One classroom at Goodwill of Southern Indiana (an Excellence Academy center) provided a variety of colors and sizes of cups. The children built elaborate walls, pyramids, arches and towers. They incorporated unit blocks to make doorways and roads. Every day they came up with new ways to use the cups, and the play continued for weeks as the children collaborated, tested and built.
Want to get building in your classroom? Here is a list of 6 nontraditional materials to get you going:
1. Cups: Paper, plastic, foam or other, cups are versatile, accessible and cheap.
2. Paper Towel Rolls: Leave them whole to make tunnels and columns or cut them down the sides to make ramps.
3. Flat Rocks: Stacking rocks provides a great challenge of balance. Add some sticks and they can be used to turn a block structure into a nature scene.
4. Boxes: Small ones, large ones, leave them blank or decorate them to look like buildings. Just put a pile of boxes out and the children will know what to do!
5. Plastic Lids: Another great challenge in balancing, a variety of sizes of lids makes for interesting towers. They are also a great way to add circles to block designs.
6. Masking Tape: Place lengths of tape on the floor to make roads. Better yet, hand the tape over to the children and see what they create!
What would happen if you gave a room full of children 300 feet of aluminum foil? In a recent classroom experiment, we did just that. Excitement and ideas flowed around the room. Children had the freedom to create what they wanted and use the foil in as many ways as they could imagine. They made boots, hats and masks. One child decided to make a mermaid tail. Although the activity level was high, so was the concentration and involvement.
When the time came to go outside to the playground, the foil came with them. They wore their costumes, created bags for collecting seed pods and wrapped their bikes in foil. The foil became so precious to them that many children collected scraps and stowed them away in their cubbies for future use.
With all of the planning that goes into curriculum and all of the ideas on Pinterest, blogs and other websites, sometimes the best activity is the one most open ended where children have freedom and can express their creativity with no agenda.
|Center Name:||Dorman Preschool Center|
|Classroom Age Group:||3-5 years old|
|Years of Teaching Experience:||8 years|
|Years in the Excellence Academy:||2 years|
|Highest Education Level Achieved:||Bachelor of Fine Arts|
|What is one of your favorite things about teaching young children?|
|One of my favorite things about teaching young children is seeing the children of my class coming to school expressing happiness and and eagerness to learn each and every day.|
|How has the Excellence Academy changed you, your classroom environment, your knowledge of early childhood development and your teaching practices and strategies?|
|The Excellence Academy has improved all aspects of my teaching and my classroom. It has enabled me to enhance our classroom environment into a comforting and peaceful learning space. I now approach each day with the intention of making learning active, hands-on, and exciting while still focusing on promoting progress in the developmental areas of each individual child.|
|Tell us about your family.|
|I live with my boyfriend, Shawn, and our two dogs, Layla and Rhett. I have one sister, April; she is an ER doctor and is married to Iraj. My mom, Meg, still lives in Pleasureville in the house I grew up in. I am very close to both my mom and my sister.|
|Do you have any hidden talents?|
|I can read extremely fast and I usually finish a book in about 2 days. I am also a painter, drawer, and print-maker.|
|What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?|
|My favorite way to spend a weekend is hanging out at Kamp Kessa to go horseback riding and to relax and enjoy being outdoors. I also enjoy playing games like Quiddler, Scrabble, and Uno.|
|What would be impossible for you to give up?|
|Books and twirling my hair|
|How do you want to be remembered?|
|I want to be remembered as someone who was creative, funny, and always strived to improve.|
4-C and friends made you a digital quilt to show our love and appreciation. May this quilt of thank you notes and testimonials provide as much warmth and comfort as you give our children each and every day.
Click here to read the full length testimonials or add one of your own.
Teachers and directors need opportunities to play. As early childhood professionals, we advocate all the time about the value of play for children and the learning and development that happens through it. Children can socialize, test out new physical skills, use their imagination and creativity, and have the space and freedom to discover. Fred Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Play is also serious work for adults. In our profession, we often see play as something we do with and for children, but taking the time to really play with a material before it is introduced in the classroom is incredibly valuable for planning. Playing increases the teacher’s ability to identify how certain students will react to the materials and be intentional about what tools to offer to extend the learning. Allowing time for play and reflection can reignite the sense of wonder and awe by experiencing something new or seeing the everyday with new eyes. It provides opportunities for joy and delight. When teachers play together, they socialize, laugh together and build community.