When the class was working on color mixing, the kids sometimes found that blue and yellow didn’t always look “green.” It might be greenish, but it would sometimes be a little too blue, sometimes a little too yellow.
As teachers, we have felt that way in trying to find the right balance between “the academic” and “play.” At the end of some days, we’ve reflected on the day and thought, “That was pretty good, but it felt a bit too much like school.” We were choosing what the kids were focused on. We were deciding what they’d learn. We might have found a more creative way to teach and assess it. We didn’t use as many worksheets, or the kids got to move more. There were other days that were good, with the kids engaged and interacting with one another and with our learning topics, but when we thought about whether the learning targets we’d hoped they’d walk away with were met, we had to say that we weren’t absolutely sure. Those days were maybe a bit too much like preschool or playtime.
This past week, we seemed to be mixing up the right shade of green, finding the right balance. The kids’ explorations and connections time were demonstrating the skills that we’d been working on in workshop. During free play, we were hearing and seeing evidence of their learning in action.
Connections this week focused on the roots of plants, to gain an understanding of how exactly our living plants “eat” and “drink.” The class created a model of roots with paper towel and colored water and waited for evidence that the roots were “drinking” the water and moving it to the stem. They then experimented with flowers and celery stalks looking for more evidence of plants drinking. Teacher Lindsey brought in a variety of roots to examine. The kids classified taproots and fibrous roots as they cut and probed the various roots.
During connections, the kids also labeled diagrams, building off of workshop lessons about text features. As they explore their reading in the morning, we have talked about how text features like the Table of Contents, Labels, and Captions can help us when we read nonfiction. The class is becoming quite skilled at using the pictures, their background knowledge, and knowledge about letters and sounds to figure out what a label says. They are using this reading to confirm or correct their guess about a picture. The kids are also using their expanding sight word recognition and sounding out more words.
During the kids’ explorations time, a group became interested in volcanoes. They decided to model a volcano using blocks. When we recognized that our model wasn’t looking very volcano-like, Teacher Lindsey suggested that they consult our books. Using the table of contents, they identified a good picture to study. They determined the shape of the volcano and worked to create it with blocks.
During Tuesday’s workshop, we modeled the process of choosing and creating a dramatic play area. We turned the museum into a pumpkin patch, brainstorming a list of things we’d need at a pumpkin patch, building vocabulary, and then creating some signs and materials for the patch. On Wednesday, we searched for the “biggest” pumpkin and realized that “big” can mean different things – the longest, the tallest, the heaviest, the “roundest”. We practiced measuring to identify the biggest pumpkins for these different attributes.
We also introduced Writer’s Workshop at Kineo this week. The kids are using a combination of pictures, letters, and words to convey a story. We have heard about pumpkin patch visits, dreams, and birthday parties. But the biggest excitement for the teachers was watching the writing and math woven into our pretend play on Friday.
At the end of workshop, we completed a shared reading of a rhyme about a pumpkin. “Pumpkin, pumpkin on the ground. How’d you get so big and round? Once you were a seed so small. Now you are a great big ball. Pumpkin, pumpkin on the ground. How’d you get so big and round?”
As we headed off to free play, Teacher Jodi wondered aloud what might be happening at the pumpkin patch today. The next thing we knew, the “Every Pumpkin is Here” pumpkin patch was a hive of activity. One student was making and selling stew. Another pair worked at getting the café going. Teacher Lindsey broke out the cups, and the kids began creating signs and prices. Another pair was working on figuring out tractor rides. We had quite a bit of money exchanged as kids sold candy, pumpkins, decorative corn, stew, and pie and used some counting strategies to figure out how much was owed as payment or as change for a purchase. We talked a bit about reasonable prices. “Wow, $100 for a tractor ride. I just wouldn’t have enough money for that.” Students discussed whether the corn had roots showing or not. Maps and signs were created. And the play time wrapped up with a marshmallow roast attended and enjoyed by all.
If at week six, we managed to find the balance we are seeking, our year is off to a terrific start.