Category Archives: education

Collage Inspired by Eric Carle.

Eric Carle collage

A friend recently gave me a beautiful book about illustrators and the story behind their work.

The cover design of Artist to Artist was the inspiration for my art project for 2nd grade. I read the Eric Carle section of the book with interest and looked up videos of Eric Carle explaining how he creates his illustrations.

Materials

Various shades of blue tissue paper

Scrap book paper

glue and scissors

black sharpie

After watching the video with the children, I explained our under the sea themed collage.  The children would draw and cut out sea creatures using scrap book paper and then the sea around it (or over the top if they preferred) would be made using a collage of tissue paper.

The children chose their paper , drew sea creatures of their choice, cut them out , drew features with a sharpie and stuck them onto their paper.

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Following this the children added different colours of tissue by tearing it into strips or small pieces to make the Ocean.  I showed them how they could put a thin layer over their creature to show it was under the sea and give it a shadowy effect or collage around the creatures.

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Some children didn’t want to have sea creatures in their picture and instead chose to draw stones or shells.

under the sea collage

I explained that we would combine the pictures to make a complete under the sea scene.  Some had clear ideas as to where their picture should fit into the display. This child for example asked if the dolphins could be jumping out of the ocean and used white tissue to make the foamy waves, her picture was placed at the top.

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Once the pictures were dry, I coated them with modpodge. This gave them a varnished effect and helped loose bits of tissue to lay flat.

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One observation I have made with this class is that often I come away feeling that some children have been so carried away with the process that the finished product feels rushed and very messy.  I wish we could have a process session before making a product as I do with Kindergarten .  However, my main observation is, even when I feel some children’s projects really will not come together properly, somehow they always do.  Every child has a different idea (which I encourage) and somehow they all work in different ways in the end.

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And once they were all put together they looked like this.

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We have an art walk later in the year. I intend to add a 3-D art project to this piece and hang it, so it looks more complete.

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Art Project for Kids: Oil Pastel Still Life Inspired by Georgia O’Keefe

img_0664December’s Art project with Kindergarten and 2nd Grade was a still life Poinsettia using oil pastel.  The Kindergarteners had only used chalk pastel up until now, so our first lesson introduced them to oil pastel techniques.

The children were given a selection of oil pastels and a piece of paper and asked to try them out and think about how they might be different to the chalk pastels we used in the previous session.

Here are some of their observations.

The colours are brighter and you can press harder.

When you press hard it gets softer and easier to mix

They are like crayons

It didn’t blend across the colours like the chalk pastels but it worked when you put one colour on top of another.

You can blend chalk pastel with your finger. You can still blend with oil pastel but it is harder.

I can add white to blue to make light blue.

I showed them how to blend the pastels using baby oil and a Q-tip/cotton bud. the children practised making pictures using the blending technique.

I can colour just a little bit with oil pastel  and then use the oil on my Q tip to fill in the rest – it makes a lighter color.

It looks like paint when we add oil to the pastels, it makes it smoother

 You can use the Q tip like a paint brush

If you use too much oil it rubs the color away.  You need just a little bit to blend.

I gave them another piece of paper and they drew around their hand using pencil.  They then coloured the hand in stripes using the oil pastels.  The colours were blended using oil. We painted the background with liquid water-colour. They thought it was very cool that the pastels repelled the paint.

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Still Life

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For the follow-up session and with the 2nd Graders who are familiar with oil pastels, I chose a still life drawing of a Poinsettia.  The Kindergartners haven’t followed a project inspired by an artist, so I asked for suggestions of still life oil pastel artists on a Reggio-inspired Facebook group. After a bit of research, I decided upon Georgia O’Keefe.  I liked the way that O’Keefe draws flowers but doesn’t always focus on the whole plant. I felt that if we looked at examples of her work as inspiration, the children could choose to zoom in on one part of the flower,if they didn’t feel confident enough to tackle the whole thing.

I limited the  oil pastel colours to shades of red and green, black for shade and yellow and white for highlights.  The children drew the picture with the pastels and then blended using oil.  The final touch was painting the background with liquid watercolour.

Since the children hadn’t done anything like this before, I was aware that they may find it challenging.  To start the lesson we read ‘Ish’ by Peter Reynolds. This is the story of a boy who gives up drawing in frustration because his pictures do not look like the real thing.  His sister persuades him to look at his pictures in a new light, as tree-ish, afternoon-ish and vase-ish .  I wanted the children to understand that this was not an exercise in replicating exactly the plant in front of them because each of us view it differently.  My aim was for the children to study the plant and replicate it in their own way.  I think we achieved that aim perfectly.

Kindergarten Class

 

Interestingly the Kindergartners were less anxious about the task than the 2nd graders, who found it hard to decide which part to draw and spent a lot of time considering how to make the shapes. A few children needed a lot of encouragement and support to make their own marks on the paper.

2nd Grade Class

I love how different they all are. The Kindergartners really focused on the shapes of the leaves and the 2nd graders paid more attention to the details in the leaves and petals and were more abstract with their use of colour. I’m really impressed with the finished results and it was a really valuable exercise to see how differently we all see things.

 

 

 

What is my Responsibility as an Early Educator in the Wake of the US Election?

Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with  questions.  These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.

My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue.  I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia.  He worked with the community, to create  new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another.  Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.

Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and  am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?

I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.

More questions arose.

Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?

If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?

Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?

Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.

When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs.  America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?

I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language.  We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us.  Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.

I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened.  This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same?  We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.

We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.

 

 

 

An Introduction to Chalk Pastels

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This year I am teaching art to Kindergarten and 2nd Grade.  Since I don’t know many of the children, I chose a simple project for the first lesson, so I could assess the children’s level of skill.

Kindergarten art is really about exploring materials. I like to give them a chance to investigate new materials, teach them a few skills and create a product that is as open-ended as possible. Today I introduced the children to chalk pastels, as they are easy for little fingers to use and can be used in many different ways.  Most of the children hadn’t used chalk pastels before.

To begin we talked about blending and what blending meant.

It means mixing two things together ” said one child.

I showed them how to blend different shades of the same colour, from light to dark by drawing lines using the side of the chalk pastel, one underneath the other and then blending in a circular motion with their finger. We thought that these techniques could be used for pictures of sky, water or rainbows.

blending

I also demonstrated how to blend colours by putting one colour on top of the other and the children went off to see how many different colours they could create.

I showed them other ways they could use the pastels.  Making circular shapes and mixing two colours and using dots to make patterns. The children tested these out too.  Some children experimented with different colours in circular motion. Which colours look like the sun and which colours look more like a moon?  One child drew a car and we talked about how blending the wheels in a circle might make it look like it was moving.

Mine looks  a bit like smoke” said another child.

The final part of the lesson was to create a picture of their choice using some of the techniques we had tried.  I made some suggestions based on some of the things we had been talking about.  A sky with a sun or a moon, perhaps fire and smoke, a rainbow, water , trees and flowers or they could draw shapes and blend different colours inside the shapes. The instruction was to create a picture we could put on the board, not just a mass of blended colour.  For some this was difficult, but once they had a blended background we encouraged them to put shapes or drawings on top.

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I think they turned out really well but most importantly,they had a lot of fun and hopefully  will explore chalk pastels further at their art station during free choice.

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The 2nd graders who are already familiar with chalk pastels, created a project using a chalk pastel frame and a watercolour moon with silhouettes, from an idea by elementary art fun.

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I love how they turned out, especially the vibrant colours of the moon  and chalk pastel blending to create a spooky effect.

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I think they would look even better displayed on a window with a light behind them.

 

 

 

Picture Books for Children Who are Afraid of the Dark.

Fear of the dark is fairly common amongst young children. It often arises around the age of two or three when their imaginations develop and they begin pretend play.  Often, children become fearful about what might be lurking in the darkness but sometimes it is also tied up with other anxieties.

Sharing a book is the perfect way to invite a child to talk about their fears. Children’s fears are real so it helps to listen to them and work out strategies for alleviating fears together .  When my daughter was young, she developed an extreme fear of darkness, so bad that she would cower and cry if I left the curtains open as it was getting dark. It turned out that she had very poor eyesight but was too young to articulate it.  When it was dark, she could barely see anything at all.  Once her eyes were tested and she wore glasses, her fear was more manageable.  She still gets scared sometimes when she gets up in the night, but having a night-light by her bed (preferably one she can carry) helps a lot. When her fear was at its height, sharing stories helped a lot. I even wrote a book just for her, about a magic elf that she could call upon whenever she was scared.

Fears are helped when children can talk to you about them and what better way to start a conversation than reading a good book together. Below are some of my favourites; let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

  1. The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

This new title, is the story of Ella who grows more comfortable with darkness as her mother gently encourages her to appreciate  nature’s night-time wonders. Ella’s favourite colour is yellow and she feels sad as the yellow disappears at dusk.  The illustrations move from an indoor world of yellow, black and white to an outdoor twilight of green, red, blue and oranges.  Ella looks and listens as she explores with her mother and finds many beautiful things. She finally decides that if she leaves fewer lights on inside, then she can experience the glow of the moon from her bedroom.

Talking points for children

  • What can you see at night?
  • What can you hear at night?
  • Does it feel darker inside or outside?
  • How does it feel to look out of your window at night?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have night? What would you miss?

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Lazlo is afraid of the dark but the dark usually lives in the basement. That is until one night when the dark, in its personified form, enters Lazlo’s bedroom and takes him on a journey through the house to the basement. Once there, the dark shows him  a drawer where he finds night-light bulbs and Lazlo and the dark live in harmony ever after.  This book combines sumptuous, descriptive text with pictures that show the stark contrast between the shiny blackness and the light of the flashlight.

Talking points for children

  • What does dark look like?
  • What does dark feel like?
  • What can we do to make the dark feel different?

3. Can’t you Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

This timeless classic tells the story of Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear can’t go to sleep because he is afraid of the darkness all around. Big Bear brings lamps of different sizes to help Little Bear, but he is still afraid.  When Little Bear still can’t sleep, Big Bear takes him outside to see the light of the moon and stars. Finally convinced that he is safe, he falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms, in front of a warm fire.  If comfort food came in book form, this would be it.

Talking points for children

  • What helps you when you can’t sleep?
  •  Why aren’t grown-ups afraid of the dark?
  • How do you feel when you look up to the sky when it is dark?

4. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard

Another timeless classic, this time in early chapter book format.  Plop is a barn owl, but unlike all of his friends, Plop thinks the dark is scary.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of darkness as Plop learns  through his many adventures, that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful. This is a perfect read-aloud book for young children.

Talking points for children.

  • Why do you think dark is fun, fascinating, beautiful etc.?
  • Can you think of other adjectives to describe the dark?
  • Have you ever been convinced by someone else that something you thought was scary wasn’t actually that frightening at all?

5. I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross

I first came across this picture book as part of a children’s literature module back in my student days and it is a personal favourite. Though not strictly about a fear of the dark, it is a book about putting fears into perspective.  As a creature from outer space hurtled towards Earth, it warns Tommy , “I’m coming to get you”.  Tommy  searches for it as he goes off to bed but can’t find it. In the morning, the monster gets ready to pounce, only to find that he is smaller than a matchstick in the human world.

Talking points for children

  • If you could squish one fear with your shoe, what would it be?
  • What things are you scared of that might in reality be more frightened by you?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

20 Children’s Books to Prepare for a New School Year

Typically when I think about books that prepare children for school, stories about starting school come to mind.  However, when I received a couple of books encouraging self reflection for older children and teens, I was inspired to compile a list that could prepare children of all ages to face the challenges of the school year ahead.  I was helped in this endeavour by literary expert Sally Allen.    A writer and speaker, Allen advocates for reading books that inspire us to think more deeply about our world and to empathize with others’ experiences. In her latest book, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers (Griffins Wharf, 2015), she explores these beliefs while providing reading lists that deliver on the promise of inspiring empathy. Sally’s recommendations are in the chapter book section. The list also includes recommendations from my 12-year old daughter.

Picture Books 

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Not to leave out books about starting school for the first time, my favourite starting school book is ‘I am too absolutely small for school by Lauren Child.  Narrated by the  charming and comical Charlie and Lola, it is a wonderful book for children who are anxious about starting school for the first time.

Ming goes to School  by Dierdre Sullivan

This picture book with simple text is perfect for younger readers or perhaps those who are beginning to read on their own.  The beautiful watercolour illustrations are delightful and tell the story of events in an ordinary school day.

children's books for back to school

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This classic back to school book  deals with separation and the reassurance that you are loved, as you leave for your first day of school.

Something Else by Kathryn Cave

A heartwarming tale about being different and making friends and one of my personal favourites.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

This children’s classic encourages children to share and find happiness through making friends.

Chapter Books

The Clarice Bean Trilogy by Lauren Child

This trilogy deals with many issues from childhood in a wonderfully humorous and endearing way. The third book in the Trilogy ‘Don’t Look Now’ finds Clarice in a turmoil when her best friend moves to a different country.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Ten-year old Auggie wants what most kids want, but a facial deformity has kept him apart from his peers. Told from multiple points of view, his story of seeking acceptance and community unfolds as he enters a regular school to attend fourth grade.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The first in Stewart’s series brings together a group of gifted children who go on secret missions to save the world. Beautifully written and moving, the story highlights how even the smartest among us benefit from friendship and teamwork to overcome challenges.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Witty and touching, this graphic memoir is named for the superhero personal Bell crafted for herself in childhood. She recounts her early hearing loss, growing up with a Phonic Ear and hearing aid, and the challenges of young friendships and first crushes.

Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver

Oliver’s mesmerizing and brilliantly plotted story about loss has heavy and difficult but ultimately rewarding moments. With the help of a ghostly figure called Po, orphaned Liesel escapes her bleak existence and sets off on a mission to bury her father’s ashes at the place he most loved.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Autobiographically inspired, this poignant verse story describes the narrator’s last days in Saigon, fleeing from Vietnam, and struggling to adapt in a new country.

Give Me Liberty by L. M. Elliott

In the early days of the U.S. revolutionary war, a young indentured servant grapples with the contradictions and injustices contained within the emerging country’s battle for sovereignty.

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

A young girl, Penelope, travels spontaneously between her time (the 1930s) and the 1580s, where a plot is underway to save Mary, Queen of Scotts. In this potent meditation on the power of witnessing, Penelope cannot bring anything from one world into the next or affect the outcome of the doomed plot.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Seventh grader Georges struggles to face up to bullies at school and a frightening situation at home. This heartening story is about learning to face up, speak up, and take control when faced uncomfortable and scary situations.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s moving and eloquent memoir in verse follows her from Ohio, to the Civil-Rights era South, to Brooklyn in the 1970s. Her exquisite sensory poems touch on race and injustice, friendship and family, and finding one’s purpose.

Books for Older Readers

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How to be You by Jeffrey Marsh.

This is an interactive book that is warm and upbeat and shares a clear message ‘There is nothing wrong with you’. It invites readers to write, colour and engage with the activities within to internalise the concept presented in the book. Interlaced with stories from real lives, a humorous voice and reminders that they are not alone, it is the perfect book for those who feel like an outsider.

self help book for teens

Start Where You Are – a Journal for Self Exploration by Meera Lee Patel

My personal favourite because it is visually stunning and includes inspiring quotes from many of my favourite authors and artists. It features Meera’s hand lettering and watercolour illustrations on every page, alongside exercises to spark reflection through writing, drawing and chart-making. I found it difficult to give this one up to my daughter. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone who wishes to reflect on life and get to know themselves better.   The exercises would be  valuable start of term activities for older children and teens.

Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

This is JK Rowling’s inspirational commencement address at Harvard University, in book form. It is perfect for anyone who finds themselves at a turning point in life.

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helper

When her mother moves to start a new venture, Penny is made to leave her lifelong friends and city life to start again in a small town. This book deals with transition, change and friendships and the uncertainty and hope that accompanies a new life.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  Copies of some of the books on this list were received for review purposes. All books in the list are personal recommendations and no payment was received for writing this post.

Jerome Bruner and Early Education

 

Jerome Bruner

Photo credit Poughkeepsie Day School

This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.

  1.  Scaffolding   

Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.

The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old.  The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and  try things for themselves.

2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.

“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”

This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.

 

3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed  heavily to the development of Head Start.

4.  Spiral curriculum

This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.

Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.

With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface.  I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.