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Over the last five days, I have had the pleasure of creating and teaching centers in Mrs. Katie Westvig’s preschool classroom. Her school preschool resides in a small community of about 1600 people. The school is a public school in a rural area that has 300 students in grade’s pre-k through 8th grade. Of those students, 57% receive free or reduced lunch (NICHE 2018). In Mrs. Westvig’s preschool classroom, she services 16 children between the ages three and five, all of whom have IEP’s. In Mrs. Westvig’s classroom is an inclusive classroom, with students ranging from general-education children to children with Down syndrome, as well as children who need speech therapy or social skills. For this week of instructional planning, I planned a week of spring summer activities for the children to do inside the classroom. I started day one with the dramatic play center, where I created an ice cream shop where the children played and created their version of an ice cream person and a cashier we also worked on shapes in this area.
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On the second day, I did a sensory table center for the children that contained water beads and bugs. What goes better with Ice Cream then bugs? I also chose this center because the children were experiencing ants in the classroom so it was a big topic the week before. I wanted to find out what they remembered about the bugs and work on their counting and other math skills.
On the third day, I created a math and manipulatives area. In this, area the children worked on making ice cream cones out of paper, tape and pom poms. Then we worked on counting and shape identification. I also included matching activities in this area for the children to work on matching and patterns. This was a goal the teacher had for them in their outcomes.
On the fourth day, I did a storytime book and an activity for Mat Man who is a character in the classroom curriculum. For this activity, I read mat man shapes with the children, and then I broke the children into groups of two to create Mat Man with the curriculum pieces. This also worked on their math skills.
Lastly, on the fifth day, I created a block center. In this block center, we worked on measurements. To do this, I had the children each build a tower as high as they could, and we measured it against the wall. Then we counted the blocks, which were all different shapes. We also talked about what shapes they used. As you can see most of my centers revolved around math, shapes, and counting, which is a low area for these children. I choose to work on the area of math, based on conversations with the lead classroom teacher and what the children needed to work on. I felt that working on counting, shapes, patterns, matching, and measurements were right on target for the children to reach their needed outcomes for the year. Throughout this week with the children, I was able to do a lot of different things. I was able to plan and design meaningful learning environments that were healthy, respectful, supportive and challenging. I was also able to facilitate my role as teacher and deliver my lessons, as well as, assess what areas the children achieved and fell behind in over the course of the week.
I feel that throughout this week I was able to use my developmental knowledge to create a healthy, respectful, supportive and challenging learning environment. Each day I created a lesson plan that was developmentally appropriate according to NAEYC, and each lesson met Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. According to NAEYC, “good preschool teachers maintain appropriate expectations, providing each child with the right mix of challenge, support, sensitivity, and stimulation. With their knowledge, skill, and training, teachers—in collaboration with families—can ensure that programs promote and enhance every child’s learning (NAEYC. N.d.). I feel that the expectations that I set going into each of these lessons were developmentally appropriate. I know this because the expectations I set were based on Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. Each goal I chose I considered what each child needed to work on based on classroom outcomes and then compared them to the standards to write my expectations for each lesson.
In regard to planning my centers, I think that they had a positive impact upon the children’s learning. According to Elizabeth Jones’ five dimensions of a learning environment, the first dimension is the hard/soft dimension. This dimension refers “to the sensory responsiveness and physical comfort of the environment” (Jones & Prescott 2008). I feel that in this area I covered both hard and soft to create a positive environment. I feel that in creating the dramatic play environment, I made it very colorful and inviting. It had a good combination of both hard and soft to create a relaxing use it how you want to environment. The flooring in this area was carpeted so it decreased fatigue. The furniture in this area was hard as well. However, the materials within the area were both hard and soft making this area a great combination. In the sensory table area, I also incorporated both hard and soft materials. The water beads were colorful and softened the environment while the table itself was hard, as well as the floor. The bugs that I included were rubbery and bendable giving the children to opportunity to move them into different positions before they drew them. This area also gave them a wet/dry feel to their day. In the math and manipulatives center I feel that this area was harder then soft. The soft things were the flex seating that is used in the classroom. It is not just regular chairs. There are also cushioned stools to sit on. I used those in this area. The other soft thing was the pom poms. These were colorful as well. The hard things would have been the table, the paper, and the tile floor. For story time, this gathering was on the carpet. I used it as an introduction to small-group activity. The carpet in this area gave children the opportunity to sit. However, they felt comfortable. Although they had been taught that criss-cross applesauce was how we sit during a story. Afterword, they could sit however they wanted. The materials for this activity were both hard and soft as I used wood and foam to build Mat Man. In the block area, this environment was both a combination of hard and soft. The blocks that I used were foam blocks of different shapes and colors. The floor was carpeted, and the wall that we used were brick. The children stood, laid, and sat upon the floor to build their towers.
The next dimension is open/closed. “This refers to the level to which the program, material, storage, and educators restrict or allow children to make choices about what they will do” (Jones & Prescott 2008). I feel that my environment was more open than closed. Children were able to play with material as they saw fit. They were able to create art their way, for example, when they created Mat Man and drew their version of the bug. It was theirs not something they recreated to the T. They each also got to choose what center they wanted to play in. I did not make them play at my center but wanted to see how many would come and play each day. I was successful in that I got all the children to get involved. The only area that I think might have been a little closed was the block area and the math and manipulatives area. These two areas had activities that were planned. However, I let the children take the wheel after I showed them what to do. If it did not come out the way, I had hoped it was okay.
The third dimension in Elizabeth Jones’ five dimensions of a learning environment is intrusion/seclusion. This dimension “refers to the presence of both welcome and unwelcome stimuli; seclusion refers to privacy, wither welcome or unwelcome” (Jones & Prescott 2008). For the centers I created, I think that they fit both areas. Children were able to do the activities with other children or do them alone. It was up to them. However, this classroom did not have space for children to be alone that was specifically for this reason.
The next dimension is low mobility/high mobility. In this dimension, Elizabeth Jones “refers to the level of muscular involvement and movement” (Jones & Prescott 2008). I believe in this dimension, I created more of a low mobility environment because we were inside. We used more small-muscle and sedentary activities then gross motor activities. Not that this is a bad thing, but I could have created a movement activity to go with my book at story time.
The last dimension that Elizabeth Jones identifies in her five dimensions of a learning environment is the simple/complex/super dimension. This dimension “refers to the ways that materials and equipment hold children’s interest” (Jones & Prescott 2008). I think in all areas, I achieved super level. I had three or more materials for the children to use. This, in turn, held their interest longer than if I had had just one or two items. Also if I notice that a child was losing interest, I tried to add a material or accommodate the lesson to challenge the student. Jone’s tells us that “complex toys hold children’s interest 4 times longer than simple toys; super toys hold children’s interest 8 times longer than simple toys” (Jones & Prescott 2008). This to me says that the more control over their creativity they have, the longer they will be attentive to a center.
Speaking of control over their creativity that leads me to my next subject and that is how I planned my centers to support children’s autonomy. Autonomy to me means giving children the power and opportunity to make their one decisions on how to do something without an adult telling them how to do it. It’s letting them figure out what works, what doesn’t and letting it go if they do not get it exactly the way you would have done it, even if they make a mistake. I planned each of my centers so that children could be introduced to the activity that was there. Then they could choose what to do with the materials. I was there in each center playing with the children creating challenges and accommodations as needed. However, I let them play with the materials in ways that they saw fit as long as it was not harmful to them, like putting things in their mouth or throwing things.
During my planning, I was able to design meaningful learning environments for each child. I also was able to integrate literacy, math, science, and arts into the curriculum. When planning my lessons I had to consider the differences between each of the children as this was an inclusive classroom. I had to take all of the different verbal and non-verbal accommodations as well as motor skills accommodations into account. For children with different non-verbal skills, I used picture cues as well as had the teacher use her sign language to help me out. For children who needed motor skills accommodations like scissors, I used the hand over hand method for this activity because that was what was in their IEP. I also tried to integrate two or more content areas into each center I planned. To do this, I thought of an activity that I would like to do with the children. Then I looked through the learning standards and content areas and choose ones that would fit into my lesson. This enabled me to make sure that my lesson was appropriate for the age group, and that I was not expecting too much from them.
Lastly, for this area, I feel that my prior observations of play and non-play behaviors played a major role in what I chose to implement as far as centers go. I chose centers that I knew children would be interested in as well as watched what was going on in the classroom. For example, the children were fascinated by the ants that came into the classroom. So I knew from this, that putting the bugs in the water beads would be a big hit, and it was.
I think that instructional delivery was my best area. I feel that I did an excellent job in my roles and communication with children to facilitate their meaningful learning and play. I took on the roles of facilitator, model, coach, storyteller, observer, and questioner. I do not think that any one of these roles is more important than the other. I was the model in that I started the activity by showing the children how to use or do something. I even started by being the cashier in the dramatic play area. This got the ball rolling, and the children had a blast. I was the coach. Cheering them on by telling them that they could do it or one more piece. I was the storyteller when I created or read a story to go with what we were doing. I was the observer when I watched what they were doing and took notes as to whether it was achieved or still needed to be worked on at a later time. I was the questioner. As you will see in the video attached to this document. I asked children all kinds of questions. How are they different, what else could you use, what shape is this, can you tell me what you do with that, is that cold or hot, why is it cold? I could go on and on with questions I asked. One of the comments I received all week from my host teacher was that I was very good at asking open-ended questions. She also told me that she enjoyed that I played with the children not just observed the whole time.
During the instructional delivery of each lesson, I offered quite a lot of praise and encouragement. During clean up time, I always offered encouragement as to how well they were doing it on their own. I praised the children who cleaned up all the pieces without missing any. During the center time, I encouraged a child to use a glove and touch the bead because they scared him. I told him that “even though it looks scary it feels really neat, and I bet with this glove you won’t even know it’s wet. Let’s try it together.” I also praised children when they were able to write their names by telling them “look you did it by yourself. Now you can show your friends.” I think because of my use in both children were more eager to show me that they could complete of doing something on their own, especially with cleaning up at the end of centers.
Child 1 work samples
Mat Man Bug from sensory table
Completed work at Math and Manipulatives table