Animal Crossing: Salt Meadow Academy Style

One of the Salt Meadow Academy 5 year old’s created a neat scene today that I just had to snap pictures of. 

We will call this one: Animal Crossing.

miranda animal crossingThis is how the process started. The student explained:

The starts are starfish. The rocks are sea rocks. The animals are crossing a bridge over the ocean. They want to get to the other side. The mats are a bridge. The ocean is beneath. There is a star fish under the mats too.

 

The building continued after I snapped this first picture and she added more elements including larger river rocks and trees. 

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Rainy Day Volcano

Last week we had a day of downpours. It rained and rained and rained. We went out to splash in puddles in the morning but the rain was so cold we quickly ended up back inside. So much for mid-August heat.

It was a skeleton crew of kids at the house (read: my bonus kids only) due to summer schedules of kids at camp and other family vacations. The rain finally let up enough and to cease the pacing about the house I started gathering materials.

Vinegar, baking soda, water, bottle and food coloringcake decorating gel (same thing right?). The kids were summoned to the kitchen and were instructed to fill the bottle half way with water (you don’t need pure vinegar to make a great eruption) and we added the gel coloring. I shook the bottle and voila, perfectly vibrant liquid. Awesome, it worked. The boys added about 5 (maybe our counting wasn’t so precise and we landed about 10 due to eager squeezing of the bottle) drops of liquid dish soap. Then they filled the rest of the bottle with vinegar.

We carried it outside with the box of magic powder as I had deemed the baking soda and plastic spoons. We built a volcano-like cone of sand in the already destroyed sandbox to hold the bottle. We sprinkled in about 3 teaspoons of baking soda and voila. You’ll see how our different colors looked as they loved it so much they asked for it over and over again.

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Fun with PlayDough: Exploration of a 2 Year Old

I always cherish when I am able to spend significant one-on-one time with my students. Today was one of those days.

Clay and play dough are always big hits at Salt Meadow Academy and today was no different.

First, it was ice cream. He rolled it into little cones and handed them to me to taste.

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Next came a truck, complete with sound effects that he drove across the table.

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He noticed that the basket of animals was under the table so he used those to create footprints and impressions in the dough with tails and horns. He pressed the animals slowly into the dough and studied the marks they made by putting his fingers in the impressions and bringing my hand to feel them too.

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We heard the train whistle as it rolled through town and he quickly changed gears and created a “choo choo train”. He labeled “wheels” as created.

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After a while he again switched gears and dug into one of our loose parts boxes and tried using wooden knobs in the dough. He remarked about the little holes it makes in the dough. He repeatedly commented “peep peep” which is what he’s currently using to refer to a bird. He hollowed out the dough a bit more and stuck the knobs inside while saying “peep peep”. Was it a nest?

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All said and done, he was solidly focused for a full 45 minutes!! He narrated what he was creating, which was fabulous. We had so much fun.

Teaching a mixed age group is amazing because the littles learn from the bigs. But at times, I appreciate when the bigs aren’t around because the littles are able to freely create without influence from what the other kids were making or saying.

Reflections on Mirror Play

I added a mirror into our classroom after finally finding just the right size. I plan on adding more in the near future but for some reason finding them in okay used condition and shatterproof is a bit tricky.
As most of you already are aware, I prefer used items over new as Salt Meadow Academy is really focused on using as much recycled and repurposed items in our classroom as possible. Also, inevitably the objects will scratch or break and will need to be disposed of and if they are used, the eventual disposal does not hurt the wallet as much.

I had the wonderful opportunity to see our two year old explore the mirror for the very first time with a myriad of the loose parts that we have available.

Check out all the cool things he explored using the mirror!

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It was incredible to see him stack items and arrange them in so many different ways. He really enjoyed watching his reflection and looking at the items reflection after placement. When putting down the little wooden spools he labeled each with a name of a family member, pretty cool!

Has anyone else tried mirror work at home with their children? What sort of scenarios have they come up with?

Welcome To “Wood Land”!

“Wood Land” was a day long collaboration between two students (brothers) today using our blochhi naturali and other interesting pieces in our classroom.

This is Wood Land. It’s made entirely of wood things. Even the cardboard is wood because it came from trees. There are tall trees. Look at all the trees. This is the temple, it’s made from special wood. I guess it’s not really special wood, just old wood. Churches are old usually, a temple is like a church. We are building a special room underneath on the lower shelf. It’s a secret. – 7 year old

I’m working on making all the animals and fire but not now because I’m putting all these knobs into the fire to make it. They shoot the fire.-5 year old

Oh man, we forgot to turn the floor to wood!!-7 year old

This whole table is wood!! We don’t need to turn it to wood! -5 year old

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Classroom Update: Let The Children Build It

Image (4)As I posted previously, the classroom was in need of a complete revamp to fit with the Reggio way. This past week I was finally able to go ahead and purchase the shelving I had my eye on at IKEA in New Haven, CT. New Haven isn’t very far by highway, but it’s certainly a chore to go all the way down there. Since I brought the shelving home on a Thursday night (there was no way I was starting the assembly process at 9:00pm) I was able to start the process Friday morning. 

It all started with one set of shelves. One set of shelves became two identical sets of shelves. I built these before the students arrived for the day. Assembly went really quick. I chose these shelves for their bare wood and simplicity of style. The shelves were large enough to hold bigger objects and they were tall enough were I could place things out of reach of the smaller children. They did come with wall anchors which I felt were completely necessary to use as small children can easily pull these shelves over

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By the time the children arrived, I was just beginning to open the boxes that contained the new birch cubby shelves. Immediately, I was surrounded by eager little bodies that couldn’t wait to see what the final products would look like. As I removed each piece from the box, including many little bags of hardware, and some awesome paper that had been laid flat between the shelves (we ended up saving ALL of the paper to reuse for art work!) the kids were already asking if they could help.

 The first and most revolutionary principle in  the Reggio Approach is both that individuals are not, as it were, isolated from the other, and that human sensibility is based on a sharing of minds and hearts in dialogue and interaction. – Jerome S. Bruner

We took out the illustrated instructions and set to work. At first, it was just one child and myself setting pegs and using the little star tool to screw in the shelves.

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We were joined by another child who wandered in and inquired what we were doing. He sat down to help without hesitation and the first child offered him the tool and a screw so that he could experience what she had. She provided him instructions on which direction to turn the tool and encouraged him as the turning of the screw got more difficult as he went. There was such a superb dialogue between the two as they worked in unison to hold the pieces together and tighten them so they wouldn’t fall. 

We needed to add more wooden pegs to join one of the cubby shelves to the frame so the children counted out the pegs. They consulted the instruction book (thank you IKEA for illustrating your instructions so that the children needed VERY MINIMAL guidance on this project) and placed the pegs in the holes that the picture pointed at. They had a bit of trouble pushing the shelf onto the pegs so they asked for help, which I was happy to provide.

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The noise of the palm of my hand (I couldn’t find our rubber mallet) banging the shelf into place brought our 2 oldest students into the classroom to see what the noise was. The other children explained they were building shelves for our new classroom and they asked the older children if they’d like to help. They too where interested in helping build, so they were given a brief tutorial from the others, along with the tool and some screws. The young taught the old something new and the old willingly listened. 

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After the last screws were in and tightened, I stood up the cubby shelves so they could see their work. They were beyond excited to see what they had created! I glanced over my shoulder at the second box, containing the identical shelf system they had just built. Their eyes lit up as they tore into the box yet again…

DIY Reggio: Blocchi Naturali (Natural Blocks)

Create your own natural wood blocks for your reggio classroom

A Reggio inspired classroom isn’t complete without some blocchi naturali (natural blocks). They are quite easy to make, even for those that have little wood working experience. For the blocks that I made for my classroom, I used a couple branches that the power company had trimmed last year and left in the empty lot next door. The branches themselves had some really great straight pieces (which are essential to the ease of balance when standing the blocks).

image (5)I dragged them over to our yard and used the saws-all to cut them into varying lengths. Let me be honest, I started out using the handsaw. Apparently, I am not very good at using a handsaw and I couldn’t even get through the first cut. If you have superb skills in the handsaw department, by all means, go that route. When cutting the chunks, vary the lengths so that there are different sizes to work with. Also, try to cut as straight as possible so that the pieces stand up without falling over. 

image_1 (4)After cutting the branches apart, I put them all in a box and brought them inside. I happened to have a foam sanding block laying about from another project. I sanded the cut edges smooth and even gave the bark a once over to ensure a smooth finish. This part definitely took the longest but was well worth the time put in. I opted not to seal them at this time. I like the smell and feel of the wood in its natural state, but you can seal with an eco-friendly, child-friendly beeswax if you desire. 

This is the finished product (I’m going to make a bunch more, but I had to start somewhere).

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Have you ever made natural blocks? Any suggestions or tips for readers that would improve their creating experience? Feel free to share them below! 

Building A Fire: Reggio Style

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I noticed one of our students had selected a large amount of materials during a free exploration time yesterday. Our conversation went as follows:

Student (upon noticing that I’m watching): “Feathers are fire, sticks are just sticks. Rocks are sticks.”

Me: “You’re making a fire. Why are the rocks in a circle?”

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Student: “Because I’ve seen them that way before on TV for a fire.”

Me: “Why do you think fires are surrounded by stones?”

Student (pauses to think for a bit): “Because if there are no rocks, the fire will burn the lawn and the trees.”

Me: “So it will spread where we don’t want it?”

Student: “Yes, the rocks stop the fire from going where we don’t want it because the rocks don’t burn like the grass and sticks and trees will burn.”

Student: “I was thinking of something better than these (removes the feathers). Orange sticks for fire because fire looks orange. I’m going to try orange pompoms or yellow because fires that color too.”

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Me: “What other fire colors are there?”

Student:”Blue, it’s very hot. The sparkly ones (shows me pompoms) are sparks. Do you know what I’m thinking about now? Blue and purple fire. It’s hot, super hot. And then I’m thinking about crazy fire with all these colors.” (bursts into a fit of giggles and piles a massive rainbow of pompoms on the top)