Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rolling on the River

Last summer I led a themed, 2-week long "session" of my school's summer program that was loosely centered around the Hudson River and the New York Harbor. Pete Seeger's Sloop Clearwater was sailing down river to dock in Brooklyn for a couple of days in the summer, so I took advantage of the opportunity and put together a session entitled "Rolling on the River". My school is in a neighborhood that is directly on the Brooklyn waterfront, so we had easy access to waterfront piers and parks.

To pull the unit together I decided to turn our classroom into the New York Harbor, by creating a large harbor mural that would cover an entire wall of the classroom. During the first week of the session, we visited the nearby parks and piers, and talked about what we could see in the harbor. We read stories about rivers and animals that live in rivers and, as a group, we wrote our own story about a whale that gets lost in the New York Harbor (based on true events!) During the second week, we went for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry and visited the Sloop Clearwater.

The kids did a fantastic job painting our mural, deciding what needed to go in our harbor, crafting the parts, and writing the labels (with the teachers help for spelling). We had cranes:


the Verrazano Bridge:

the Brooklyn Bridge:

and, of course, the Statue of Liberty:

We also used streamers, thick ribbons, and fabric to create the East River and the Hudson River, which extended from the harbor wall to other walls in the classroom. The children posted these handy labels as a guide, which delighted the mapper in me:

In addition to getting to do all of this artwork, the session ended up being a great way to get outside during the summer, to explore our school's neighborhood, and go on some fun field trips!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the wonder years

This photograph captures all that I love about early childhood.

Monday, February 15, 2010

childhood favorites: blueberries for sal

There are some books from childhood that I will always love, and this is one of them. I love the simplicity of the story - with a dash of magical realism thrown in for good measure - about a little girl and her mother going to pick blueberries before the winter. It's the illustrations, though, that keep me coming back to this book and make me want to share it with the children in my classes. The drawings are rich in detail - you feel like you're in those fields and woods of Maine, lazing about, picking blueberries, meeting animals, and getting lost.

The faces of the characters are full of expression which is perhaps what I love the most - the surprise, the fear, and the relief on the characters faces is expressed so fully through the illustrations that the words of the story are almost unnecessary.

The author, Robert McCloskey, once said that he thinks "in pictures," and that he writes words to fill in the spaces between the pictures. For children who are not yet able to read words, this is a perfect book for them to "read" independently. Without words to anchor the story and give it a direction, young children are allowed to let their imaginations do the talking, guided by the pictures. McCloskey creates an experience for children, in which they can be both author and actor, crafting a new tale every time they read his book. What could be better than that?

*images borrowed from "Blueberries for Sal" by Robert McCloskey

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the young cartographer

I love maps, and I love introducing maps and map-making to young children.

Several years ago, when I first started teaching, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Sara Fanelli's "My Map Book" in a used book store. This book is a perfect tool for introducing the concept of maps and map-making to young children. The pictures are engaging and relatable, and Sara Fanelli shows that there are many types of maps to be made. Children can see a map of "my day," "my neighborhood," "the sea," "my tummy," "my family," and "my dog," among others. The book is both a jumping off point and a continued source of inspiration to children as they set about the task of charting their environment, their experiences, and their fantasies.

* images found on Sara Fanelli's website and Amazon.

art curriculum: exploring color

Our art classes this year have centered around a few simple units that are taught over a period of about 3 weeks to a month each. We explored the properties of clay during our first unit of the year, experimented with collage during our second unit, and have settled into a study of paint and color during our third unit.

We began the unit by learning about the three primary colors and how they can be mixed to create secondary colors. Having just completed a unit on maps, we had the children create their own "color maps" (a la Sara Fanelli's "My Map Book") to show the three primary colors and the three secondary colors. Each child mixed their colors independently to create their own, unique map. Once they finished their painting, they worked with a teacher to draw arrows around their map to indicate which primary colors were mixed to create each secondary color.

The next step of our exploration led us to look for primary and secondary colors in the world around us. We first brainstormed as a group to come up with things that were naturally each color; for example, yellow sunflowers, orange peppers, purple irises, blue blueberries, green artichokes, and red roses. Next, we gathered loads of magazine pages (pre-selected by the teachers) for the kids to search through and cut out pictures of red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, and green objects. The children cut (excellent fine-motor skill work!) and then sorted the pictures (excellent visual discrimination and categorization work!) according to their color. Finally, we created a "color collage" - a circle divided into six pieces - to display our findings. Looking at our final product, the children quickly realized that though we had many pictures of each color, no color was exactly the same. We noted how many shades of green, purple, orange, blue, red, and yellow we found and guessed that there were probably many more shades that we did not find. This led us into a discussion of tertiary colors as well as, of course, a discussion of what it means to have "shades" of a color.

The last phase of this unit will be to create our own color wheel. I can't wait! It will be interesting to see what the children take away from this unit and how their understanding of color and painting will change in the coming months.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy New Year!

Ah, September. I love you.

As a teacher, my "new year" begins in September. September is the time for turning over a new leaf, cleaning the slate, and making New Year's resolutions. In September, the year is full of promise - and the excitement of trying new things, meeting new children and families, and greeting returning children and families is at it's height.

One of my first resolutions of the new school year is to tackle cubby clutter while simultaneously encouraging children to take responsibility for their own belongings (coats, backpacks, lunches, artwork) and feel a sense of ownership over this personal classroom space. Hopefully these handy labels will help lead the way!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


as much as i love my work, i also love my vacation. thus far as a teacher, i've worked for six school years and three summers. i spent last summer finishing up graduate school which, though enjoyable, was not a vacation. this will be my second summer almost completely off (i'm working a mere two weeks) and it's been wonderful.

i'm three weeks into my time off, which has been enough time to adjust to a day-to-day life in which i have 0-3 things on my mind as opposed to 25 - infinity. i have time to take leisurely bike rides and trips to the beach:

time to climb on the rocks, and scamper over kelp and wet sand when the tide is out:

and time to run my toes through the warm sand when the sun is out:

ahhh..... vacation!