I recently gave a talk at an Early Childhood Caregiver's Workshop. The talk was about young children who are on the autism spectrum. Here are the notes!
-So, I totally revamped our calendar time, and I am loving the results. I did away with the typical grid-style learning calendar that I have always used in the past. Grid calendars aren't horrible things to use in a classroom, and I hope to introduce the grid-style later on this year after we master the application basics for counting and finding the day of the week. But for now, grid calendars will not be my go-to for teaching calendar concepts. There were several problems inherent in the design of the grid calendar which make learning ANY calendar concepts difficult for my students.
Grid calendars make it difficult for littles to orient themselves within the task, because they make it difficult for littles to understand where to go and what to do next. Those rows really mess my littles up! Having to remember to drop down and then go all the way back to the left for each new week when you are simultaneously learning/practicing speech sounds, counting and physically manipulating the pointer requires a lot of simultaneous motor planning and task analysis that littles may struggle with.
Grid calendars make it difficult for littles to find the information that they are looking for. This is most evident when a child is trying to tell you what day of the week it is when the number date that they're starting from is three rows down from the top of the calendar! The biggest problem with the grid style is that the format of rows and columns requires so much simultaneous motor-planning and task analysis that the process becomes so slowed down that the poor little forgets what they were doing OR how to do it. Or, both. Which increases prompting and decreases independence. Which leads to frustration for both child and teacher. So, I decided to reduce the MP and TA as much as I could- at least for now.
So, where does that leave us? I am hoping that I have an answer to that question. It's called a linear calendar. I found this lovely idea on the internet on a teacher's website, and I used her inspiration to make my own. If I get her permission, I will link to her website and share her pictures with you later. Basically, a linear calendar is a calendar that is one straight shot across, so that littles don't have to bother with rows or columns. It's just a row of numbers, with a row of days of the week above it. Ours required taping five foamcore boards together to make a stand-alone backdrop, because linear calendars take up a lot of space! We are also still using a regular wall calendar- look under the "About" tab and find "Some Things to Do With a Real Calendar" for more details on how we have used them in the past.
I will post soon about HOW we use the linear calendar and will share our calendar routine with you. For now, I just want to bask in the gloriousness of seeing my littles learning without all of the losing-my-place and what-do-I-do-nextness.
For now, here's a picture. It's not a great quality photo so I have included a closeup too.
I will do some blog entries, but much of my classroom information is found under the "About" tab, so click there if you are looking for something specific. :)
I have been blessed with the cutest bunch of littles this year, but, they are just that- LITTLE! And over the summer, I researched the best practices for teaching calendar concepts for preschoolers and found out some interesting things. I will link to a thought-provoking article at the end of the post, but I just wanted to take a few quick minutes to explain my most "interesting" findings:
1. MOST calendar concepts that are taught at the pre-K level are NOT age-appropriate. (I have to admit, I am guilty of this one...) Basically, we are overshooting on this one and it isn't helping our students.
2. Developmentally speaking, most children don't truly begin to understand the passage of time in terms of minutes, days, etc. until the age of 7. Some kids get good at the rote reporting, but true understanding of the material in such a way that they can actually USE the information is generally still years away.
So here's a direct quote from the NAEYC article that really grabbed my attention:
"However, most 4-year-olds are not ready to grasp the complex concepts involved in dates (Etheridge & King 2005)."
So, then, IF the kiddos that I am teaching are not ready to learn this stuff in any meaningful way, why am I teaching it?!? The answer? I'm ashamed to admit it. I saw the other pre-K teachers doing it. If the regular education pre-K classrooms are learning it, then by golly, my kids will too! Except, all of the research that I've been doing is all saying the same thing- THEY'RE NOT READY FOR THIS YET.
But then, I KNOW that there are kids every year who DO grasp the calendar concepts that I teach, so what do I do so that the few who ARE ready to learn it can go forward with their learning while I am not banging my head trying to teach the ones who are age-appropriately just not there yet!?!
Stay tuned to find out ;)
Real calendars are super useful!
In January, my kiddos were counting away and needing some more challenge. So, after we counted and found the date on the big velcro calendar, I had the kids help me find the same number on the real calendar. This was a great opportunity for them to use their visual scanning skills, their matching skills, and their number identification skills. Next, they had to help me decide which color X came next by saying the pattern out loud to figure out what color X we needed to draw in the box, Some of my little guys can draw an X, so if it happens to be their day to be the calendar helper, they can draw it in, but I hand-over-hand it with my kiddos that aren't ready for that yet. Another reason why I like using the real calendar? The pictures show clues about the season and month that we're currently in, so it gives us more to talk about during calendar time! We discuss animals we see, what people are wearing, what the landscape looks like, whether the picture was taken during the day or at night, what weather it depicts... even what is NOT in the picture. For January, I might ask the kids why the the girl isn't wearing a bathing suit or why there aren't any insects flying around.
By March, we were doing ABC patterns and everyone could draw an X!
April brought shapes instead of colors, because I wanted to be sure that my little guys understood that patterns aren't just about colors. Thus, a monochromatic color was used and we shifted to shapes, going back to the AB pattern just to keep things simple.
In May, we were discussing the number of sides of shapes, the number of corners, etc., so our pattern was an AB pattern made of squares and triangles. I drew a key at the top right so that I and my teacher aide could remember what we were doing, but the kids totally understood the concept without being told! Students were either able to draw the shape themselves OR they could tell me how to draw the shape using the correct number of sides and corners. The kids really enjoyed doing it this way, so I hope to get to this level much faster in future years. What I loved most about this page was the amount of discussion that this activity generated with the students. Also, I drew a simple picture on the page for a student who had a birthday in May and one for the last day of school. We call the last day "Bye-Bye Day" so that the kids can truly understand that the school year is over and they won't be back to my classroom :(
Can you guess our letter of the week? Today we started day one of a week's worth of activities dedicated to the letter B.
This is the blue goo that I bought from the dollar bin at the dollar store. It's actually a bathtub product, but we put it in the sensory table and explored it that way. It is really cool to play with, but I can't imagine sitting in it in a bathtub! We described its physical attributes, poured it into containers, used basic pre-writing strokes in it, and just got used to the squishy, wet texture. Most of the kids loved it, but I have one hesitant little one who will hopefully make her way over to explore it by the end of the week :) I don't make kids touch stuff that grosses them out, but usually if the rest of us have enough fun with it the hesitancy will wear off soon enough.
For dramatic play, we are pretending to have a birthday party for a baby. The kids were so excited about this! I must have heard the birthday song 200 times today:) Some students played birthday party the whole time, while others were more interested in counting the birthday candles. I had one student who was mostly fascinated with identifying the letters in the Happy Birthday banner. Works for me! We snuck some math in there by giving them playdough, muffin tins and candles. After they decorated the playdough cupcake with a certain number of candles, they counted them. For my kids who were ready, we worked on matching the numeral candles to the number of stick candles. We discussed sizes of boxes and gift bags, identified shapes of birthday objects, and decided which gift objects would fit into each gift container. One-to-one correspondence could certainly be addressed by putting a bow on each box or an item in each gift bag.
Items in the birthday prop box include tablecloths, cups, plates, playdough, spoons, an empty icecream container, icecream scoop, stick candles and numeral candles, curling ribbons and bows, assorted gift bags and nesting gift boxes, a jar of sprinkles that I hot-glued and taped shut after removing 1/3 of the sprinkles, invitations/ envelopes, pens and stickers, and some small toys (balls, cars, books) for "wrapping".
For incorporated movement, we are bopping balloons with our body parts and blowing bubbles. Since I am not showing any pictures of my students, I don't have any pictures of that :)
For literacy exposure, these are the books on the bookshelf this week. These books are available for the kids to sit and read or for them to request an adult to read to them during free-choice time. The one with the camera flash obscuring the cover is called "Buzzzzzzzzz Said the Bee". I always try to make different types of reading materials available, such as board books, interactive books with velcro components, books with communication boards for my non-verbal students, magazines, catalogs, and adapted books, like the ones shown below:
We are reading "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," "Don't Worry Bear," and "Not a Box" out loud, in addition to the adapted books pictured above.
Where to start?
Exceptional. As defined by Merriam-Webster.com:
unusually good : much better than average
I guess now would be a good time to tell you, in case you stumbled upon this blog with some high hopes that you inferred from the blog title, that the "exceptional" people in my classroom are my students, not me. I teach preschoolers who all have at least one disability. Our day-to-day escapades together constantly challenge me to be a better teacher to them, so I am trying out this blog to help me organize and reflect on what works, what doesn't work and what I am still working on. I don't have any idea if this little experiment will work out well for me, or if I'll even be able to find the time to keep working on it, but I'd like to give it a try...
Join me, if you'd like ;)