Sunday, December 29, 2013

Imagination & Play...Where To Begin

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Christmas Break has given me the luxury to reflect; burrowing under a comforter with a peppermint mocha has been a perfect position for dreaming!  I've been doing a lot of thinking about the pace of our classroom schedule, the non-negotiables of the district, and how to meld these things with my personal philosophy.

We all know that the expectations of kindergartners have grown more rigorous, especially with the adoption of Common Core.  The trickle-down-effect into the PreK arena is placing a burden on our youngest learners and their teachers.  (I've just typed, deleted, and rewrote my next sentence 5 times.)
*Deep Breath* 
Our little ones need more time to play.

Our day:  150 minutes for Literacy, 90 minutes for math, 50 minutes for each-Science and Social Studies, 50 minutes for Ancillary classes, 30 minutes for lunch AND recess.  When you do the math, it becomes clear that we aren't in the building long enough to accomplish all of this, especially when you factor in that our trips to the bathroom take at least 10 minutes each time (the bathrooms are on a different floor than our classroom, with girls and boys at opposite ends of the building).  As a K team, we've gotten creative with the science and social studies blocking.  And we try to work free choice into the afternoon --a 4 hour block with no transition or break--, with a small amount of time when we focus on intervention for struggling students.

~Which leads me to a mini rant on the fact that these children rarely get to play... the ones who need practice with language and social situations.~

I've also had time to update our class photo album.  It's bursting with pictures of children building block towers, creating yummy things with playdo, imagining a different life for the manipulatives.  These are the things that make them say, "Can you take a picture?".  They beam with pride, joy, and abandon.  They work things out with minimal involvement from me.  Not long ago, I heard one of my girls tell a boy, while assembling a puzzle, "You need all kinds of help, boy. You should be glad I'm here!".  His reply?  "Yup." ;-)

My students live in an urban environment.  I've been worried about them since day 2 of this break.  Are they hungry?  Did they find presents under the tree?  Are they sleeping?  Did they get enough hugs today?  When I add the joyful photographs to the facts of their lives, I see play as vital.  The way through circumstances, the practice of finding silver linings in the storm clouds, can be discovered with an active imagination.  Learning to manage our emotions and engage others in socially appropriate ways can be discovered through play.
A non-negotiable.

I want, need, to give my students more opportunities to imagine, to dream.  I'm working on a Dream Journal idea, pondering a repositioning of subjects, tweaking station/center choices, ravaging my sons' Lego collection.

Do you want, need, to dream with me?  Ideas welcome!


  1. Kind of makes one wonder what we ever did before there was a Federal DoE, which was created way way back in ... 1978. Has education gotten better or worse since 1978?

    Time was teachers like my wonderfully talented and caring friend Chrissy would set the agenda in the classroom, answerable only to the local community as to whether or not she got it right. She could adjust and balance the kids' needs with the curriculum - which might very well change with each different group of kids. Today we have unelected "experts" hundreds or even a thousand or more miles away setting cookie cutter agendas with subtle political undertones across the nation.

    I have several relatives and friends in the K-12 business, and I hear the same complaints about the intrusion of maybe even perhaps well-meaning strangers in meeting rooms ... many of whom have never taught in their lives, or haven't taught in a very long time -- putting unrealistic and counterproductive constraints on teaching time - and this was *before* common core.

    Ok, that was my rant.

    Now I can see in your words the gears in your creative mind turning trying to do the best you can by your kids to balance their needs with what little wiggle room you've been given.

    I remember in Mrs. Whelan's class, when we were in 5th grade -- on rainy days, that little "quiz baseball" game we used to play (get the answer right, and it's a "hit"). Maybe slightly lame for 5th and 6th graders, but I still remember it. It was better than droning on out of a book.

    Math ... I'm a visual learner. I learn anything much more quickly if I can visualize it. Blocks, marbles, toothpicks ... objects and groups of objects for addition and subtraction (and even multiplication and division if you stick to reasonably small numbers). I am thinking now of a game where kids get varying number of objects, and two kids get to be maybe "Miser Minus" (like a tax collector ;-) and "Pal Plus" (like Santa Claus) who go around taking away or giving whatever number of objects say the King or Queen of Numbers decrees (and that might very well be the teacher).

    Social Studies ... I'm not sure what social studies topics a Kindergartner needs to learn. "Be Nice" and "Cooperate" is about all the social studies I think a Kindergartner needs. Teaching them we live in a Constitutionally Constrained Republic and not a Democracy might be a little beyond them - though it couldn't hurt to toss it out (sorry, couldn't help it ;-) ). Well, it wouldn't hurt THEM anyway. Might get you tossed out on your ear. :-/

    But you're right about the "building" thing. Anything they can point to and say "I made that" or even "I HELPED make that" is a very big deal at that age. Legos are awesome, especially basic Legos (what is it with all the specialty pieces these days? Takes away from the imagination part of building something if you've got whole walls aready built for you!) At any rate it's of course often not practical to make building something part of an educational process, but it's a good place to aim first and then compromise down from there.

    If I knew more about what it is you actually have to teach I might be able to come up with some things.

    1. Hi, Phil! (Phil and I went through elementary and high school together!)

      Just look up the Common Core standards for K on the MO site at DESE.
      You may want to sit down first ;-)


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