Thursday, September 29, 2016

Handwriting tips for the older preschooler

As preschool teachers in the Rainbow Room, Lisa and I often get questions from parents about their child's handwriting. Should my child be able to write his or her name by now? What about handedness- should my child have chosen his or her dominant hand by now? How can I scaffold their fine motor development at home? 

Our signing-in area: one child traces letters already on

the paper with her finger. Name cards and letter pieces
are to the right.

One of the richest ways we encourage hand-writing practice is through our morning sign-in process.* Each day when a child arrives, he or she washes hands, then proceeds to the sign-in area in which to write one's name. Currently we are providing several clipboards on a surface, each containing a sheet of adequately-spaced blank lines. Generally speaking, when our school year begins, children's skill and interest in hand-writing is emerging (appropriately so!) and the teachers are on-hand to scaffold this development.

Opportunities for fine motor practice and self-expression of
one's thinking are abundant in the classroom.

Occasionally a child switches hands, maybe for experimentation, but will lean toward one particular hand more than the other one. All children will eventually establish their dominant hand during their time in the Rainbow Room.

During the sign-in process, we consistently scaffold letter-formation for each child- either through the provision of a name card on which a child can see the letters of his or her name; through the use of letter "pieces" which connect together to create a specific letter; through the tracing of a letter on paper with a finger; through the practice of referring children to each other for letter formation "advice"; and, even by creating the letter shape with our bodies with a child. We have many tools in our "hand-writing tool chest" which can address the many learning styles our children bring with them to the classroom.**
A completed sign-in sheet. Everyone's
handwriting is different!

A child signing in- notice the non-dominant
hand holding the paper for stability. She
is also showing her letters starting at the top.
Another point to keep in mind, too, is that any habits formed now are harder to break later. This requires only a gentle reminder here and there; it's not necessary to have children practice over and over (like a drill). They are natural sponges of information! However, you can help your child by reminding them that letters (and numbers!) start at the top. As your child ages, the hand will be fatigued more easily if they are writing individual letters from the bottom-up. Lisa and I remind children of this point almost daily.

Pencils have attached "grips" to support
a tripod grasp.
  Another piece of the hand-writing process is the development   of a "pencil grasp". We see many ways of holding a pen or pencil in the Rainbow Room. Over time, however, we will start to encourage a more efficient way of holding a pen/pencil. Usually between the ages of 4 and 5, children are ready to hold a pencil in what's called the "tripod posture" or "tripod grasp". Most adults and older children hold pens/pencils this way: pen/pencil held with thumb, index, and
middle fingers. The hand can rest on the page in this grasp, making it a less tiring grip. We have pencil "grips" secured on our pencils, which promote a tripod grasp. This type of grasp is the most efficient one for learning to write print, allowing the greatest amount of finger movement with the least hand exertion/fatigue.

Also, during the development of this complex fine motor activity, the non-dominant hand acts as a stabling element to the paper. Sometimes children need this gentle reminder so their paper stays in place during the writing process.

If you have specific concerns or questions, even after reading this information, please get in touch with us! We are happy to provide you with more insights into your child's developing skills with hand-writing. If we have noticed something that needs more attention, we will certainly get in touch. Occasionally a child needs a little more support in the form of outside expertise from an occupational therapist to help develop fine motor muscle strength, but this recommendation starts with a parent/teacher conversation and lots of monitoring and scaffolding for a period of time. Please keep in mind, too, that we consider the variability of child development and don't hold children's skill acquisition to a strict specific checklist or timeline.

Want to know more? Here are some fine motor "ideas" you can provide at home: lacing, threading activities; stacking, building (legos, k'nex); winding, twisting, and screwing activities (nut and bolts/ construction toys); tongs, tweezers, clothes pins, and chopstick activities; puzzles; chalk, crayons, stencils, finger paints, and felt activities; cutting, tearing, folding activities; page-turning, beading, wrapping/unwrapping activities; etc! I'm sure you can see the many possibilities for naturally embedding fine motor activities into your day.

Have more ideas to share with the community? Share them here!
Like observational drawing shown here, handwriting is learned
in a social context. Children reference each other for advice
about letter formation just as they do with drawing.

*Other opportunities are utilized throughout the day which encourage writing: notes home or to other classrooms; signs or props for narratives, labeling items, and many more.

**It's important to remember that learning is multi-sensory at this age: making letters in the sandbox with a stick, or in the bathtub bubbles are really appropriate ways to encourage letter recognition. It's an entire body learning process!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Gymnastics: The Language Of Two Friends Shared With Others

Margot drew her friends in gymnastics class               Margot's map to gymnastics class showing
and the road around. "It takes a long time to                her street and Julianna's street along the way.
get there."

Margot and Julianna share an enthusiasm for gymnastics! They took a class together this year and brought their love of the experience to all of their friends at school. They began each day by building gymnastics with the large wooden blocks in our classroom. Soon all of the Forest Room children understood what an obstacle course was and how to make it a bit tricky. Overcoming challenges is part of the fun.

We wanted the other children to understand more of the girls' experience, so we invited them to join a small group. It is there that the experience shared between those children took on a new life.

Cell phones became provocative gadgets of communication.

Friends in their cars made plans on the way to gymnastics.

They stopped at the beach on the way. They had an idea!
They opened a sunglasses store and an ice cream shop.

After reading Abiyoyo, gymnastics became a way of expressing the story. 

Hiding from Abiyoyo.

After reading Abiyoyo, the children changed the distances in their jumps.

Did the story of Abiyoyo give the children a powerful feeling?

The obstacle course soon took up the entire space.

Julianna drew the course on paper.

                                      Julianna's plan to teach gymnastics moves to her friends.

                                          Julianna's map from gymnastics to Sabot School

                             Mapping became a way of sharing and understanding  relationships                                                        between favorite places.

                                           Luca drew a map from sabot to Kuba Kuba.

                                            Friends drawing roads to each other's houses.

                               Julianna's  passion for gymnastic class was something she shared
                         with Margot. We wonder if the girls recreated gymnastics at school to                                                       continue the close relationship they experienced during class.

                                      Margot shares her love for gymnastics and her feeling of success
                                      as she writes to Miss Carla.

Margot and Julianna continued to share their enthusiasm for gymnastics with the Forest Room. They included others in their plans to act out their gymnastics moves. Their relationship with each other continued to grow while they shared their language with friends.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Sound of Joy (Spring 2016)

Children love to create sounds. Recently a child worked with a teacher to create a drum set, complete with cymbals. He spent all morning in the book corner, making realistic noises that sounded very much like the beats from a variety of drums.

Other children tried out the drum set.

Some adjustments needed to be made periodically, and other children added guitars. For several days the children returned to the drum set. It was challenging work to tape the cymbals on so they didn't fall off.

The group created a stage from our bear block, decided they needed a chair for the drummer and shoulder straps for the guitars.

Several children tried out the instruments, some singing along (though not always the same song at the same time).

The joy these children exhibited as they worked was a pleasure to behold. I found it especially appealing that the instruments were made from open-ended, loose parts. They also became quite creative in finding drumsticks: markers and bamboo being the most popular objects used. Favorite songs so far are "The Hello Song," "Jingle Bells," "Abiyoyo," and a made up song with a repeating refrain (so satisfying for this age group): "If the stuff is broken, you can use the tape." (This referred to our struggle to find a satisfying and workable shoulder strap for the guitars).

One day some children decided to be the Beatles. It was obvious that some children had exposure to this group and gave themselves specific identities: "I'm Ringo!" "I'm George!"
When children are deeply invested in a project, they will work with patience and resilience, will find creative ways to overcome obstacles, and, sweetest of all, find joy in the work they do so diligently.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Green lantern, baby, and stinky garbage have signed in today!

How do you spell Ninja?

Signing-in is a part of our everyday morning transition into the preschool. It may seem like an ordinary task at first glance, but this process is a bounty of learning for each child. On a mechanical level, signing-in provides practice with letter formation*, hand-eye coordination, pencil grip, and focus. Signing-in also enriches a child's developing phonemic awareness, the attachment of sounds to the letters that create them. There's also a relational aspect to signing-in: it's a way to declare your presence to the group and announce your membership in the community.

Take a look at the approach the Rainbow Room students took to the sign-in process starting in the Fall. This example is from December.
Who is Stinky Garbage? And who was working on their "cursive" this day?
Although Lisa and I make an effort to label children's sign-ins, on this day we didn't get to it. But that's OK. We know that learning occurs in relationship, so the child that wrote Soldier may have noticed the way Sam made his "S" and copied it. Or maybe Stinky Garbage asked a friend to help with the "T". Learning does not occur in a vacuum.
And check out what happened another day in December when Lisa and I did not put out sign-in sheets for the children:
One of our resourceful students problem-solved for us by finding some lovely paper (nicer than our usual white!) and providing helpful lines for his or her friends.
And the fun continued. After reviewing a school year's worth of sign-in sheets recently, it became quite clear how creative and unique the sign-in names were for this Rainbow Room group. Take a look at the list I have gathered of the different names children have requested help with spelling**:
Luke Skywalker
Benjamin Ackerly
Stinky Garbage
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (and later just Rudolph)
Green Lantern
Fish Sign (really confused about this one!)
Princess of Hearts
Harry Potter
Superman and Supergirl
Stop (yes, someone signed in as stop)
Optimus Prime (example at bottom of blog post)
No Noggin
But that's not all. To further highlight the variability and creativity of these sign-in ideas, here is a sample list of Kirsten's different names written over the course of the year. As you read them, consider the learning that is occurring each time she puts the challenge in front of herself to learn a different word:

Kirsten probably needed help spelling her mother's name Meredith in January. But in May when she wanted to write "Meredith" she sounded it out herself.
Another phenomenon occurring on the sign-in sheets is the playfulness with letter construction, not just with the names/identities. Here is an image with Sammy M.'s different ways of making the letters in his name. He's personifying the letters, giving each sign-in it's own unique character trait.

Sammy described these different pieces in this order: Rocking out letters, attached letters, dead letters, mad letters!, Sammy  3, and naked letters.
I'm showing the work of only these two children because the learning of one (or two in this case) is the learning of many- this play with signing-in is a classroom-wide occurrence. Some children choose to spend more attention on the details of the actual letters, and others choose to think of silly names or an enticing character as their signing-in persona.  A few children make the choice to sign-in quickly with their own name, and only occasionally sign-in differently. No sign-in experience is exactly alike between two children, but that's how we expect things to be in our classroom.
I think this playfulness with literacy and handwriting really underscores the importance of how we operate at Sabot. By providing the time and scaffolding for children to explore different ways of signing-in, we are enriching their understanding and mastery of letters and sounds. We are supporting their play with identity and perspective-taking (it must be so exciting to become Princess of Hearts when you start school!). We can also provide individual scaffolding so each child is getting just the right amount of help, and just the right amount of challenge. And don't forget social referencing- children watch and listen closely to each other: once someone signs in as "Tucker", an "apocalypse" of Tuckers will follow (this actually happened, and the real Tucker announced the ensuing apocalypse). 
So much learning in the first 10 minutes of the school day!
Watching a friend finish his nametag

Today we ran out of sign-in sheets so a few children
elected to create name tags. This one says Buba,
the name of his beloved stuffed animal.
Noticing the "G" at the end of Pierce's name, we playfully
sounded his name out to PIERG.
Sam P signed in the "SPAEL" and eagerly wanted
help sounding out his new word creation.

And Charlie was Optimus Prime today. He made a nametag to prove it.

 *While we don't provide actual handwriting lessons in the Rainbow Room, we encourage children to start their letters and numbers at the top to prepare for a future of appropriate letter construction. If you happen to notice bottom-up construction, gently remind your little one that letters/number start at the top- but don't feel the need to enforce practice or drilling of this skill!
**If a child requests the spelling of a word, we most often will go through the phonemes of the word together with the child versus just writing out the word for them (although sometimes that happens, too).

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Letter to Our Mothers

Dear Mothers,

By now you have opened your Mother's Day Portraits. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed watching the children create them.

It was a different kind of week: rainy every single day, and we were missing Sarah Anne, whose mother was in the hospital. 

Sarah Anne and I have been teaching together so long that we have a routine for how to do these sweet portraits. 

This year would be different. 

I took a deep breath and sat down with the children at the beginning of the week and explained that we were going to create a special gift for our mothers. Their eyes lit up when they saw your photographs, and they struggled to wait for their turn to draw you, their beloved mamas. Almost without exception, they kissed your pictures before beginning to draw, and touched the various facial features with gentle fingers.

This is no small project. Not only did the children draw their mothers, they also created beads to go on top of the black-framed portraits and then wrapped the pictures in beautiful brown paper. Finally, flowers and raffia or ribbon are added for decoration. It really takes the entire week to assemble these gifts.

Here is an example of how the children worked together to support us while we had a substitute teacher in the classroom every day during this rainy week (because as luck would have it, I was out on Friday). At one point I was trying to hear a soft-spoken child tell me about her mother, while other children were in the block corner, loudly building with tools. I finally went over and explained how hard it was to hear, and asked if they would stop building for a few minutes. Then I went back over to the table and was soon deeply involved with writing the child's words. After several minutes, the block-builders called me over. "Is it okay for us to start building again now?" I assured them that it was, and was touched that they had waited so patiently, and checked in with me before commencing their work.

We also sang a little song about you mothers all week long. 

"May there always be sunshine.
May there always be blue skies.
May there always be Mommy.
May there always be me."