Nature is an incredibly powerful aspect of classroom environment design. It provides an infinite supply of experiences. It also conveys a sense of calmness and a home-like quality to provide a conducive learning environment for children.
Therefore, we decided to make number posters from sticks and pebbles (in 2019). Note: This is a great activity that can be done while still maintaining social distancing between students!! Add to the activity by taking the class outside for a much-needed breather and break to collect the pebbles and sticks. You can then add in additional objectives prior to gluing them such as counting, sorting, placing in length or size order, patterning, etc.
This activity not only brought in some nature to the environment but it was also incorporated multiple learning targets:
Numerals- how they are formed= straight and curved lines
The vocabulary of horizontal, vertical and diagonal
Measurement: measured with cubes to determine the length of the stick needed
Pour sand, dirt, or water from one container to another. How many small containers full of sand/water does it take to fill the big one? Can you pour it without spilling a drop?
3. Draw shapes, letters or numbers using a paintbrush and water on the garage door (large, vertical writing is great for both fine motor and gross- motor development. Tape paper on the garage wall to draw on.
4. Clean the sidewalk using a spray bottle and water.
5. Fill each section of an egg carton with dirt, make a small hole, and pinch 3 seeds to place them in the hole. Use a spray bottle filled with water to give the seeds a drink. Remember to spray the dirt and the growing plants with water each day.
Collect nuts, pebbles, and/or leaves and then sort them. How many ways can you sort the items you found?
Collect pinecones and snap off each piece. Design a picture out of them by laying them on the driveway or gluing them on paper.
YES, helping your child develop his/her fine motor skills can be fun!! Avoid the temptation to succumb to the lure of brightly colored, cute picture worksheets.
Especially when it comes to fine motor development, pushing a child too early to complete paper/pencil tasks is not better. Parents can help provide a strong foundation for later writing by having lots of fine motor fun now.
Quick, easy ideas that use household items:
Cut a small hole in the lid of an empty coffee can or oatmeal container. Decorate the container to be a monster or an animal. Cut yarn or straws into small pieces and then “feed” the monster/animal. OR cut a slit in an old tennis ball, squeeze it open and “feed” it.
Using tongs, move small items such as cotton balls, tissue, pom-poms, noodles from one container to another. OR by looking at the group of items, estimate how many each bowl will have if you share them. Place one at a time in a set amount of bowls and count how many are in each bowl.
Build a tower with cardboard toilet paper tubes, a hole punch, and straws or pipe cleaners. Make holes in the toilet paper tube and connect them with the straw.
5. Weave ribbon in and out of an old bike wheel, old tennis racquet, etc.
Match nuts and bolts and screw them together.
6. Cut letters and numbers from empty food containers. Sort them in lots of different ways. (Learning at Home: Sorting Letters and Numbers Free Download at journeyintoearlychildhood.com)
To read more about why worksheets are not the best learning tool for young learners, read my blog posts:
10 Frames are magical tools to build number sense in our young children instead of just rote counting. A strong sense of “10” will enable children to see relationships between numbers. Children need to first develop this strong understanding of the numbers 1-10 before they begin to work with larger numbers.
They are two identical rectangles stacked on top of each other divided into five equal segments- thus a “10 frame.”
A 10 Frame is a tool to help children be able to visualize the quantity of numbers, compose and decompose numbers. A 10 Frame supports children’s knowledge of 10 by visually seeing patterns and numbers. For example, if the top row of 5 is filled and the bottom row has three, we want children to be able to automatically think of this quantity in relationship to 10 and state that the quantity is 8 because two are missing.
10 Frames can be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the day- not just to use only as a tool during math time.
Allow children to play with 10 frames during free-choice play time…
Allowing children to play with 10 Frames during free-choice play centers
Incorporating 10 Frames into a Behavioral Challenge…
Taking Attendance using a Question of the Day and a 10 Frame…
Allowing students to produce the number posters for the classroom…
We are Teachers provides some great hands-on activities to play using a 10 Frame.
State standards require children to explain, describe, define, ask, compare and contrast, respond, and so on.
To accomplish these skills, children need an expanded expressive vocabulary to both describe and tell the use of many familiar objects and to incorporate new, less familiar or technical words in everyday conversations.
Block/Construction Building, Designing and Play offers excellent opportunities for introducing, reinforcing and expanding upon vocabulary while children are engaged in fun, hands-on experiences. While the teacher is interacting with the students during block play expanded vocabulary can be introduced and reinforced through questioning, scaffolding, and “I wonder” or “I notice” statements.
Examples of Vocabulary to Introduce/Reinforce during Block Play:
Block play can be used to challenge, scaffold, and
extend children’s learning through the intentional
placement of additional accessories.
An intentionally designed block center encourages students to construct meaning of their world, to encounter problems and discover multiple solutions, to interact and share with others, to extend their creativity and to reflect on their discoveries. -D. Honegger
Examples to intentionally design the block/construction center to incorporate academic standards: (this is just a sample…)
artificial plants, plastic animals, felt and/or material, and accessories to build habitats for the animals
Intentionally Designed Block Play for Geography journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Geography Provocations in Construction Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Geography: maps, road signs or the materials to make road signs, shower curtain laid out with grids, small wooden buildings or even individual cleaned out milk cartons to become buildings, Familiar signs, such as “One Way,” “School Crossing,” “Bus Stop”, “STOP”, tongue depressors for making fences, door and dresser knobs, small vehicles
Intentionally Designed Block Play with Natural Elements journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Earth and environment: natural materials such as acorns, shells, rocks, pinecones, wood cookies, stumps, and twigs. Stumps are great for encouraging vertical building.
Intentionally Designed Block Play Incorporating Visual Arts journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Visual Arts: clipboard with markers, colored pencils to add designs to the structures and/or to make a “blueprint” or map of the structure.
Geometry: 3D shapes (which rolls the best on a ramp- a cube, a sphere, a cone, a cylinder, etc.), tin cans, flat pieces such as a ceiling fan blade, long sticks (discuss parallel, perpendicular, diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines), tile or linoleum samples, PCV pipes. canning jar lids
Intentionally Designed Block Center Physical Science journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Intentionally Designed Block Play Wide Range of Cognitive Skills journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Wide Range of Cognitive and Developmental Skills: hard hats, food containers, dollhouse people, steering wheel and any other materials that will encourage dramatic play within blocks to move students building, design, and play to a more complex level
Four and five-year-old children are very capable and independent. If manila and colored construction paper, a few crayons, scissors, masking tape, and string are always available in or near the block corner, the children will begin to make their own signs and draw trees, people, and other things they need, thereby using their imagination in a constructive, purposeful way.
Note: The above lists are simply suggestions. Obviously, no teacher will ever put out all these accessories at once. However, the larger your supply of odds and ends, the better you will be able to help the children in the block corner when they begin to need accessories for specific purposes.
Provocations are materials or the way we present materials to create a context where the child can explore. They are an extension or a challenge to our children’s current thinking and theories.
This past year we have been exploring different ways to add provocations within the construction center.
We began by observing and noticed that the students were consistently building ships. We started talking about the different types of ships and added pictures of different ships and started reading books during interactive read aloud time about ships.
SHARING: SHIP and BOAT PROVOCATIONSIn this document, you will find pictures of different types of ships and boats, open-ended questions to pose and higher-level vocabulary to incorporate while engaging with students, and challenge cards to provoke students thinking.
Materials were added as students began to increase their thoughtfulness regarding ship building. For example, we included Duplo Blocks when the students drew their plans to build cargo or freight ships (note: students always made a sketch first of what they were going to build first to add in thoughtful planning. Many times when the students would add details to the construction part, they would return to their drawings to include those same details.)
and we added dowel rods, white paper and fabric, and tape when they stated they wanted to build sailboats and/or pirate ships. The problem solving that occurred to figure out how to attach the sails was amazing to observe but eventually the students figured it out. Reminder: don’t be too quick to jump in to offer assistance, let the students figure it out for themselves.
Math objectives added included size proportions with the size of different ships. The students decided that they did not have enough blocks to build many of the ships to the correct size but that they could build a rowboat.
Social Studies objectives added included where ships and boats sail- the bodies of water. We discussed which ships would sail where, what would they carry, why some people have to travel by boat or ferry, etc.
Since the students continued to be interested in ships, we turned their interest into a unit long STEAM investigation in which the students first became material engineers to determine what materials were best for shipbuilding (what materials would float).
We next read the book, Circus Ship by Chris VanDusen, stopping after the ship hits a rock and starts to sink. We challenged the students to build a ship that would float and hold the 15 circus animals. The students worked on their ships each day for a week- some continuing to add to their original ship and some starting a new one. We tested the ships and the students added 15 animals. Note: We provided more than 15 animals so that the students were required to count them as they tested each of their ships.
The students continued to explore with ships throughout the year. During an investigation of Farm to Table, the students started making ships and when we inquired as to how the ships relate to the farm, they shared that sometimes food is transported on ships! So to move our food from the farm to the factory to the grocery store, the students built and then play acted with both trucks and ships!
All children progress through specific stages as they use blocks in play, building, and designing. Knowledge of these stages helps teachers provide the materials and questioning that will nudge children forward in their abilities and lead them to more complex play.
Stage 1:Carrying blocks: Blocks are carried around but not used for construction. (Generally, very young children or very inexperienced builders.)
Stage 2:Building Begins: Children mostly make rows, either horizontal (on the floor) or vertical (stacked). There is much repetition in this early building pattern, which is basic functional play with blocks. (approximately around age 2-3 years)
Stage 3: Bridging: children create a bridge (or portal) by using two blocks to support a third. (approximately three years of age)
Stage 4: Enclosures: Children place blocks in such a way that they enclose a space. Bridging and enclosures are among the earliest technical problems children solve when playing with blocks, and they occur soon after a child begins to use blocks regularly. These spaces are often called cages in a zoo or pet store. In this stage, children will want to add additional accessories such as figures for dramatic play or gems for food. (approximately four years of age)
Stage 5:Complex Structures: With age, children become steadily more imaginative in their block building. They use more blocks and create more elaborate designs, incorporating patterns and balance into their constructions. Children may incorporate several different block accessories as their play becomes more involved. (approximately 4 or 5 years of age)
Castle with river. Cars are driving into the castle to visit the king and queen.
Strip Mall. Cars are driving to specific stores. The lighter colored blocks on top are the signs for each store.
Stage 6: Complex Structures with Elaborate Dramatic Play: Naming of structures for dramatic play begins and engagement in elaborate dramatic play scenarios occur. Before this stage, children may have named their structures, but not necessarily based on the function of the building.
This stage of block building corresponds to the “realistic” stage in art development. Children use blocks to represent things they know, like cities, cars, airplanes, and houses.
WOW! Teachers in the Union Public Schools in Tulsa, OK are incredible. I recently had the opportunity to visit some of their classrooms. They so graciously allowed me to take pictures to share with you the intentionality of their classroom design.
The environment in which children spend their day at school needs to support developmentally appropriate practices that allow children to freely move, to explore with hands-on opportunities, to engage in dramatic play experiences, to build social/emotional skills, and to develop their symbolic thinking and cognitive flexibility among others.
Learning theories from constructivism to social learning
to experiential learning underscore the importance of
active and inquiry-based learning, knowledge construction
through interaction with the environment, social contexts
and meaningful experiences.
-“Most Influential Theories of Learning,” Unesco Education
Intentional Design for hands-on exploration while encouraging symbolic thinking, problem solving, and cognitive flexibility.
Intentionally Designed Art Centers that encourage the process of art instead of the product, and free exploration of creative ideas instead of template art.
Intentional Design of the Classroom Aesthetics so that the students can live and breathe in a beautiful space. Use of natural colors as we use in our homes for a calming effect.
Intentional Design of Student Contributions, the classroom belongs to the students. It should be a reflection of the students instead of the teachers passions or “cutesy/pinteresty” type themes.
Intentional Design to Include Dramatic Play. Students require dramatic play experiences to build executive functioning skills.