Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simple but Challenging

Ever since we started thinking about enrolling one-year-olds in my classroom, I have been trying to come up with activities that will work for them but also be challenging or appealing for the older toddlers as well.  I am fortunate that I do get a budget each year for purchasing materials of my choosing. However, so many of the commercial products, while cute and visually appealing,  are either quite expensive, make noise, light up or are just fairly closed-ended (or even all of the above). I also teach college level courses and use some of the More than books as texts, which encourage the use of open-ended materials.

The advantage of these open-ended materials is that children at a range of levels can use them. They can also be cheap so we can get a lot more for our money. Trying to supply materials that will engage one- and two- (almost three-) year-olds presents its own set of challenges. We have to be even more conscious about choke hazards than before and consider whether the materials will holdup the mouthing and handling of young toddlers. After today's project, I think we are headed in the right direction. Not only did all the children enjoy using the materials but, I learned a lot about each child I worked with and I have some good observations for assessment purposes.

Using some donated plastic coffee cans, we made our own shape sorters. I cut holes in the lid of each can to fit the three different sizes of apples and acorns in our dramatic play area. We set the cans out with the apples and acorns and added a few gourds and pumpkins to add some interest for the children who had not been using the apples much over the last week.

The children spent a good portion of small group time fitting the various items through the holes. Some used the trial and error method while others simply opted for can with the largest hole and proceeded to fill it up.

One two-and-a-half-year-old was able to place the large and small apples in the correct hole without testing. He did resort to the trial and error method for the medium-size apples.

When the containers were full, I expected the children to take the lids off (as they have in the past) and empty the container, as this almost three-year-old did.

I was surprised to see each child try their own method for getting the items back out.  
Some used the shake-it-out method.

While others tried to reach in and pull the items out.

What surprised me the most was the two boys who did not really try to take the lids off when the shaking and reaching methods didn't work. They asked me, more than once, to help get the items out. I turned it back to them asking what they could try. I even suggested at one point removing the lids, but didn't offer to remove the lids for them.  One of the boys, the same one who had no trouble discerning small and large actually, even asked me to take the lid off of his container. I suggested he try and he did briefly then resorted to reaching in to get the last apples.

I learned from this experience that we, the teachers, have been doing to much for the children and are not giving them the space or encouragement to try it themselves. Magda Gerber advises us to tailor our support to meet each child's need and to give just enough support to help the child move forward rather than giving up out of frustration. So while the children practice working with the size sorters this week, the teachers will be practicing stepping back.
It's Playtime at hands on : as we grow

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