What’s the buzz about block building?

December 19th, 2013 by Bonnie Pauska

Walking into one of our preschool or primary classes, you will notice a large number and variety of hardwood unit blocks available as well as large spaces designed for block building activities.  As early childhood educators, we know from the most current brain research how essential blocks are to the overall development and future success of our young students. We recognize that young students learn best by making their own discoveries and through their interactions with classmates in a supportive learning environment.  Blocks are an excellent open-ended and flexible material that support children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

In our primary class, the children have been studying ancient Egypt and they decide to work together to build a pyramid.  Jason has an idea of how to get started and shares it with his classmates.  David, Chloe, and Mark add their ideas, insisting on ramps as necessary components.  “We need a secret passageway!” exclaims Mark. The group begins building, all the while communicating their thoughts with each other.  They are moving around the block center, adding and subtracting blocks.They notice which blocks make the structure balance and start using patterns to create a symmetrical structure.  The teacher asks the children thought-provoking questions to stimulate critical thinking, such as “What will happen if you put that block on top?”  Susi joins the group and decides that they need signs for the pyramid they have created.  Two children go to the writing center and use “inventive” spelling to create these signs.  “Pirmd” stands for “pyramid,” while another child writes, “We are making Egypt.”  The children are starting to build up the sides when suddenly the building collapses.  A big sigh is heard from the group, but not for long.  David states rather emphatically, “Our foundation just wasn’t sturdy enough.”  They immediately start rebuilding the structure. They continued working on their building for another thirty minutes.

During this block building activity, all the children were extremely focused and demonstrated strong connections to the content they were learning in class. Planning their structure and working through the challenges involved critical thinking skills.  They were using math skills in their patterning, symmetry, and recognizing how the different geometric shapes worked together in their structure. Science concepts included a study of balance, gravity, and ramps. Strong language and literacy skills were evident as the children communicated their ideas and used writing skills to make signs for their building.  In the area of social-emotional development, the children were cooperating with each other, listening and respecting others’ ideas, and demonstrating resilience when they began rebuilding their project after it fell.

What do you notice your child learning when she or he works with blocks?

Why is it important for children to be involved in the arts?

November 10th, 2013 by Bonnie Pauska

Art, music, drama, and dance are some of the best ways to promote literacy and brain development in early childhood education. The right hemisphere of our brain is activated when we participate in creative and intuitive activities.  Arts offer young children open-ended playful types of activities with an emphasis on “hands-on” active learning.  While engaged in art experiences, all the domains of learning are being developed, from cognitive to social-emotional to fine motor and multi-sensory skills.

Watch a young child as she mixes primary colors and creates a “magical” secondary color and you will see total immersion and joy!  The child who is encouraged to imagine, create, and express herself through art is given a gift, one that leads to greater self-confidence and self-esteem.  When art experiences are integrated with an ongoing theme, the child makes meaningful connections through the art.  For example, when studying ocean life and reading The Rainbow Fish in our preschool classes, the children were asked to create their own imaginary fish from a multitude of open-ended materials such as paper, wallpaper, corrugated cardboard, pipe cleaners, ribbon, and so forth.  The children were engaged in critical thinking as they worked cooperatively to transform their ideas into a two-dimensional project.  Following the creation of their fish, they were asked to paint an ocean scene and represent what they had learned about ocean life through their classroom studies.

Here’s a fun art project that we love to do with our students.  It is very open-ended and encourages creative expression.  We call it “Fluffy Goop” and it makes a quick and inexpensive art medium with an enjoyable texture.

How to make Fluffy Goop

1.    Have an adult pour about 1/2 cup white glue into a small bowl.
2.    Let your child add shaving cream on top until it mounds slightly.
3.    Encourage your child to mix it up by whipping the glue and shaving cream with a spoon until it’s smooth and thick.
4.    If you like, your child may add food coloring or powdered paint to add color to the mixture.
5.    The fun begins when your child spoons the goop onto paper or cardboard and spreads it around with a brush or fingers.
6.    Your child may want to add sequins, beads, feathers, or other items to the mixture.

Think of all the skills your child will develop through this activity!  Measurement, sequencing, sensory skills, eye-hand coordination, self-expression, new vocabulary, and listening skills are just a few!  Most importantly, your child will experience the joy of creativity and the satisfaction of mastery.

Do you know the difference between “arts” and “crafts’?