Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Looking to the Stars

Growing up in Vermont, like many of us who grew up in rural places, I have always been drawn to looking up at stars. There is just something about gazing up on a clear summer night and seeing a sky filled with sparkling stars that is universally appealing. Of course children love learning about the stars, imagine seeing them again for the very first time. They are pretty amazing. When I came across this book while looking for something else, I knew instantly that I was going to love it. I love Marla Frazee's illustrations and they go beautifully with Mary Lyn Ray’s story about stars of all kind.

I first read this book last year with my class of two and three year-olds before I moved up to teach in the preschool classroom. I was worried it would be a bit too wordy for them and while a few book-lovers really connected with it, I knew it was a bit better suited to preschoolers. This year, most of those little guys from my former classroom have moved up and joined me in preschool, and so I brought the story out again. It was a huge hit this time around, especially with the kids who remembered when I read it with them last year. Stars has been on our classroom book display for over a month now and we've featured it twice as our circle time story already, and the kids regularly ask us to read it with them again. Of course I am happy to oblige, I could read this book with them a thousand times and not tire of it. Each time we read it, a new conversation results from something the story and its illustrations conjured up.

When I brought this story out last month, my classroom was deep in the midst of an obsession with magic and fantasy. It made sense then, to go with the kids’ interest and follow up story-time, with a make-your-own-magic-wand activity. We had just featured King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson the week before and made paper crowns. This was one of our most popular activities to date and left the whole class playing royalty for the rest of the afternoon, so my co-teachers and I knew that a wand-making activity would be well received. We cut out a stack of paper stars, offered up some glitter to make them sparkle, helped the kids glue them to a stick and tied a few colorful ribbons around the top. Suddenly each child had an invitation to transform into something magical for the day. Just like with the paper crowns, it was beautiful to watch the creativity and depth of play that was born out of such a simple DIY accessory project.

The second time we read Stars at Circle Time, I chose to make small stars to keep in your pocket, “like your best rock,” (M. L. Ray) except that it was winter and good rocks were hard to come by. The laminated paper stars I went with were a bit of a flop compared to how I imagined the activity would have gone over, had we been able to head outdoors in search of the perfect rocks to paint and keep forever. Regardless of what activity you and your children come up with, this is a beautiful book to read together, with limitless potential for follow-up activities that could tie into any number of subjects, from outer space to emotions to fantasy fiction and more.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Becoming a Birder

I have read Have You Heard the Nesting Bird, by Rita Gray, a few times now with my class and it has quickly become a favorite for all of us. The kids love it because they get to hear me make funny bird noises and they don’t have to sit quietly while I read it. The story is short and sweet, it has some rhyme and a lot of rhythm to it, and the illustrations are beautiful and interesting. This story led to a great conversation where each kid shared a few of their favorite or recent experiences with birds. And after only a few reads, the kids have learned the names and corresponding calls of a handful of common birds, many of which we’ve seen right out the windows of our classroom. We are lucky that our classroom has big windows and a patch of forest to look out on, so birds are a common sight. Since we started reading this story together, the kids in my class have taken a keen interest in the local wildlife and have finally started to regularly peruse and refer to the Maine Field Guide I brought in months ago.

The first time I read the Nesting Bird (which is a Robin), I offered a game of Bird Bingo as a follow up activity, and just like the book, the game has quickly become a favorite in our room. The illustrations are beautiful and since we've started playing, the kids have significantly expanded their naturalist vocabularies and can recognize a whole slew of new birds, many of which even I hadn’t known before being introduced to this game. Bingo is a great way for kids to practice important social skills like cooperation, organizing others, following the rules of a game, and turn taking. A specialty bingo game, like this one also provides a fantastic way for kids to connect with and deepen an interest they have developed. Back in Seattle, one of the boys in my preschool class was fascinated by dinosaurs and brought in his dinosaur bingo game. We offered it as an activity in our science area and there was one of the most popular choices at work time. After a few weeks of playing this game regularly, we all were able to name and classify tons of different kinds of dinosaurs, many of which again, I hadn’t been previously familiar with.

There are many different picture books featuring birds that would likely provoke similar interests in the subject of ornithology, such as Birds by Kevin Henkes, or Counting Is for the Birds by Frank Mazzola, Jr., to name a few. I happened to come across the Nesting Bird at my local library, completely by accident, and because I have a personal interest in birds, and I had been dying to find an opportunity to introduce our bird bingo game, I pulled it out one day after we spotted a bright Blue Jay out the window. Months ago I had set my Maine bird guide on the window sill near the science area with a pair of binoculars to accompany it, but the kids had taken little notice, only occasionally flipping through the book and usually using the binoculars for dramatic play games. After we read the Nesting Bird in our circle time meeting, I reintroduced the field guide and the kids finally started using it regularly, seeking out the birds they know, pointing out their favorites, and asking me to read the names and feeding/migration information provided on each bird’s profile page. So we can keep building on this growing interest in birds, I requested, and quickly received from our school's director, a bird feeder to hang outside our window. I can’t wait to get hung and see what kinds of visitors will provide us with the opportunity to catch a glimpse into their aerial world.