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."