Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Early Learning—Manipulatives Area

This week, we’ll talk about the Manipulatives Area.  Manipulatives, also known as Table Toys, are great because they can be very appealing to children and can teach a lot of different skills.  While this area can contain a huge variety of materials, it’s best to keep it well-stocked but not overwhelming.  It’s also best to rotate materials so that children do not become bored with them.  Some items to include in your Manipulatives Area are:
  • Building materials like bristle blocks and Legos
  • Geoboards
  • Pegboards and pegs
  • A variety of puzzles (variety in subject matter, size, material, and difficulty); don’t forget floor puzzles
  • A variety of counters and sorting containers
  • Games (lotto, bingo, etc. for numbers, color, shapes)
  • Gear boards
  • Pattern cards
  • Dressing frames
  • Sequencing activities
  • Tanagrams
  • Beads and laces

As you can see, there are a ton of things you can put in your Manipulatives Area.  If you see a child falling behind in one area of learning, there is probably something you can add to your Manipulatives Area to help that child.  For example, if a child is having difficulty with learning the sounds of letters, you could add an activity in which the child matches the letter with small items beginning with that sound. Oh, and one of the really cool things about manipulatives is that you can make a lot of them yourself!

Some of the skills and concepts that are learned in the Manipulatives Area include:
  • Fine motor skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Shapes and colors
  • Matching and classifying
  • Following directions
  • Visual discrimination
  • Sequencing
  • Identifying patterns
  • Problem solving
  • Concentration

Because this is an area that could promote teamwork in some activities, and the play could become a little louder, it’s best to locate it away from your quietest areas.  Ideally, your Manipulatives Area would have both a table and a rug where children could work.  The materials should be on low shelves, well organized and clearly labeled so that children can return the materials to the proper place.

Next week, we’ll talk about Sensory Play.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Early Learning—Art Area

After a few weeks of talking about different learning areas, we finally come to an area that most parents appreciate—the Art Area.  Parents love to have artwork from their children.  The trick with the Art Area is to help the parents to understand that this, like the other areas, is an area for learning.  The first place where this may arise is when the parent doesn’t understand the child’s art work.  (“What is it?”, “Why did you let him make the sky green?”) It is our job to teach the parent that our focus in early education is on the process, not the product.  Therefore, the product may not be exactly what the parent was expecting.  But, in the process, their child may have learned:
  • Creativity
  • Fine motor skills
  • Hand/eye coordination
  • Self-expression
  • Vocabulary
  • Confidence
Ideally, your Art Area will be located near a window to allow for natural lighting.  The flooring should be a hard surface, not carpeting.  If this is not possible, plastic mats can help save your carpet.  It also should be located as near to a sink as possible to allow for easier cleanup and less tracking of mess through your classroom. 

As for materials, again, we are looking for open-ended activities which provide for creative expression.  We’re not after 25 Christmas cards that each look just like a model provided by the teacher, or an insect made from a craft kit.  Your art materials should reflect your philosophy.  Some suggestions are (keeping in mind that age-appropriateness is very important in the Art Area):
  • A variety of paper—large and small, colored and white, construction paper, newsprint, finger paint paper, cardboard, lined and unlined
  • A variety of materials for drawing and writing—pencils, crayons, markers
  • Scissors and hole punches
  • Glue and tape
  • Collage materials
  • Paint brushes and sponges
  • A variety of paints—tempera, watercolor, finger paint
  • Smocks
  • Modeling/sensory materials—playdough, shaving cream, cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic knives
  • Seasonal materials—used greeting cards, natural materials—acorns, pine cones, leaves, etc.
  • Recycled materials—plastic cups, bottles, etc.
Your Art Area should also include appropriate tables and chairs, easels, and drying racks or somewhere that the art projects can be protected while they dry.  Keep in mind, too, that your Art Area can easily be extended outdoors as well.

Next week, we’ll move on to manipulatives.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Early Learning—Dramatic Play Area

Last week we talked about your Block Area and how it’s sometimes difficult for parents to see what their children are learning in that area.  This week, we take on an even bigger challenge; the Dramatic Play Area.  “Seeing” learning in a Dramatic Play Area can be difficult.  Parents can also feel challenged when their child is choosing an activity that does not meet the parent’s expectation of gender appropriateness.  I once had a father become very upset because his son chose to play with a baby doll.  Of course, what this father didn’t see was that his son was trying out a role and practicing caring for someone else.  

So, other than caring skills and empathy, what else can children learn in a Dramatic Play Area?
  • Compromise and problem-solving skills.  If two children both want the same role, but it wouldn’t be appropriate, or we just don’t have enough materials for it, how do they decide who gets to play which role?  How do you keep the play going if there is a conflict?
  • Fine and gross-motor skills.  Putting on costumes can be tricky, as can working with various props.
  • Language.  Certain language is appropriate for certain situations.  Children learn to use the right vocabulary and phrasing for their make-believe situation.
  • Writing.  If your Dramatic Play Area is a restaurant this week, someone will need to write down the customers’ orders.
  • Empathy.  Children can learn to understand how they are feeling about a situation and how their classmate is feeling as well.
  • Creativity.  We can provide the best space in the world, but the children still need to develop their own story in using the space and the props.

Speaking of space and props, what will that look like?
  • Like the Block Area, the Dramatic Play Area needs to be away from your quiet areas. 
  • The space needs to be well-defined, but not necessarily by shelves.  A shelf for materials can be quite useful, but a lot of Dramatic Play Areas will have kitchen furniture (stove, refrigerator, etc.) and some sort of coat rack or other method of hanging clothes/costumes.
  • The space needs to be well-organized.  Dramatic Play Areas can become overwhelming with too many materials that are not easily accessible.  A few items on hooks will be used much more than a huge box of random clothes. 
  • Provide a variety of materials—pants, shirts, dresses, hats (that can be easily and regularly washed), shoes, accessories, household items, writing materials.
  • Rotate your materials.  As much fun as dramatic play can be, it can also get boring if it’s always the same items.  This is another great place to bring in props related to your current theme.  This will extend learning on your theme and keep your Dramatic Play Area from becoming boring.  

Next week, we’ll talk about an Art Area.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Early Learning—Block Area

We’re in the midst of a series of articles about setting up environments in early learning.  Last week we talked about a Literacy Area; this week we’ll dig into the Block Area.

A Block Area is often very popular with the children, but not so much with the parents.  They often have a hard time seeing the learning experiences their children are having in the Block Area.  Does it really matter if a child can build with blocks?  We have to be able to explain why it is important; and even more, what else the child is learning during this process.
  • Frequently, block play is accomplished with a partner.  This is a great place for children to learn the give-and-take required when working with someone else.
  • Just like in your Literacy Area, your Block Area can help children to develop their vocabulary.  They can learn what an arch is and how to describe what it is they are doing.  Props can be especially helpful in enhancing vocabulary.
  • Number awareness—“How many blocks did you stack?”  “How many blocks do you think you will need to do that?”
  • Geometry—what a perfect place to learn the names of the shapes!  How do squares differ from rectangles?  What’s the difference between a triangle and a pyramid?
  • Relationship between size and shape.
  • Planning—what blocks can stack on others and which will fall over?
  • Motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • Color names.
  • Color matching.
  • Making or identifying patterns.

The location of the Block Area in the classroom is not critical.  The main considerations are that you don’t want it near your quiet area and it needs to be in an area where it can be physically separated from other areas to help keep creations from being accidentally knocked over.  So, what do you need in your block area?
  • Low shelves to hold the materials and to protect the area from passersby.
  • Ideally, both a space with hard flooring and another space with a low-pile rug.
  • A wide variety of blocks in different sizes, shapes, colors, and materials.
  • Props—especially helpful if they are related to any theme that you might be learning.  Props can include vehicles, people, signs, and books.
  • An organizational system to keep the blocks in the right place.  This will also help the children with matching skills; make sure you put the blocks away properly.

Hopefully, once you explain to parents everything their children are learning in this area, they will be pleased when they see their children building a creation.  Next week, we’ll talk about a Dramatic Play Area.