Choice Time for First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time for children’s  self-initiated learning was an important part of each day, a time to participate and explore in the learning centers – a time to learn on their own. There were math, science, art, writing, and book centers. Each of five centers provided appropriate activities and materials to invite and nurture a child’s joy in discovery and excitement about learning. Concrete experiences serve as a background for new insights and understandings in the world around them. These, in turn, not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. The materials in each center were enough to capture the interest of the very brightest students and yet still be appealing to slower or younger children.

Few materials were offered at first in each center increasing as their growth in responsibility progressed. Vital to the smooth functioning of the class, the amount of freedom or choices that children were allowed to have were coexistent and contingent upon the amount of responsibility they were able to assume. Then there was great harmony. Of course, sometimes a child was disruptive or interfering with others and had to be dealt with but the ability to handle numerous choices must be apparent with most of the class. We had very few rules – no fooling around or wasting time and everyone should be busy.

Children were involved for the first thirty to forty minutes each day (while individual students were met for writing and math) followed by an afternoon evaluation time. Projects that could be saved were put on my desk to show and explore with the whole class after lunch and recess. Those that couldn’t be saved, such as constructions in the math center, were shared and discussed just before clean-up time. During the evaluation time, a whole range of ideas were explored with positive comments, constructive suggestions offered, problems discussed and solved, new ideas and concepts introduced, and books read about the displays. In this way, the whole class was involved with others’ projects leading to more understanding for the next day’s investigations.

Important aspects concerning concept development during Choice Time included opportunities for increasing each child’s cognitive development; that concepts developed in the math, science, and art centers overlap one another providing opportunities for cognitive development while participating in any of the three; and the concepts formed in these three centers are the very tools required for successful achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Choice Time is a time to further develop abilities necessary for good to excellent achievement in all academic areas. And opportunities in a school program are unlikely to allow such advances in concept attainment as there are in a Choice Time with learning centers.

See my two entries about further cognitive growth: http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Opportunities+for+Cognitive+Growth+During+Choice+Time

and

http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Young+Children%27s+Cognitive+Gains+Through+Art

A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Young Children Creating Plays for a Study of Drama

I often wondered why children had special classes in art, music, and physical education – but never drama. Drama is valued as much in our society as the others. So, the best way to understand drama for young children is create and perform their own plays. So, every spring my combined first and second grade visited behind the scenes of a professional theatre and then returned to the classroom to simulate all that we saw. Our first job was to become playwrights. The plays were not meant to be polished performances – only allowing the best opportunities to learn and fully understand all aspects of drama.

Below the age of about eight or nine years old, children are too young to try out for parts. If so, each one is convinced that she will get the desired part, and if that doesn’t happen there is much puzzlement besides disappointment. Young egocentric children just cannot understand beyond their own viewpoint. Which in this case is, “I want that part so why isn’t it mine???” Then there is an aura around the one that got the part. When older, children need to accept that they can’t win everything desired, but then, although disappointed, at least they understand it – understand other viewpoints. But for young children it is not possible to accept something that is beyond their comprehension.

Therefore, each child decided upon a character s/he would like to be. This guaranteed that every child felt like a star. They were portraying exactly the character they wished to be and had to describe whether it was good or evil, what age s/he was to be, and any other characteristics desired.

The class was divided into three groups, each afternoon meeting with me for a week for about a half-an-hour. We would brainstorm and listen to many suggestions about the plot and how to include each character. Making up details was quite easy but getting a complicated enough plot required more effort, and often some help to create a theme. Sometimes the plot would develop easily, and other times I would go home after school completely baffled. Then the next day, back with the group, I would offer my suggestions and some from my husband. Often they would reject them! But perhaps it gave them an idea of the complexity needed because they would finally decide upon a good plot. As they participated in dictating, I read what had been accomplished the day before. I also showed them my notes, indicating the drafts needed before the final play was typed. And as we progressed, my suggestions for the theme were offered, some to be rejected and one to be accepted. So becoming playwrights involved mostly the children’s ideas but also mine; however, they had ownership of their story so the only suggestions of mine that were included were those that they approved of. Making up the three plays would take three weeks.

Following each week, I would take the story home and over the weekend rewrite it in a play form. The first time I did this with a class, as soon as the plays were passed out, some children began to count how many times they had speaking parts. So from then on, as I wrote the plays, I kept a tally so every child would have the same number of speaking parts, usually five. We always had a narrator who explained about the passage of time and any information that might have been an overload for the characters. Narrators had more to say than the actors and actresses, but it was accepted because instead of memorizing, they read their parts. The narrator was chosen from volunteers who wished to be one. The ones who didn’t get chosen still had the opportunity to choose a preferred character.

After the plays were written, reproduced, and sent home, children had a week to memorize their lines at home while we made scenery and costumes in school. Then one week for rehearsals and finally, the production. Our study of Drama took three weeks.

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Children’s Participations with Teacher Initiated Art

In my combined first and second grade classes, teacher initiated art provided experiences for children to participate in the art center during Choice Time.

Activities provided: various types of collages; string painting; ink blots; clay; finger painting; rubbings; mixing colors, sometimes with medicine droppers; potato printing; object printing; tissue paper art; sponge painting; straw blowing; and large and small brush painting.

Some techniques would be explained for using the materials, but never how to make a finished product. For instance, if beans, peas, seeds, and rice were on the table with cardboards for making collages, they would be shown how to use the glue, and because the materials were heavy, if it were immediately picked up at an angle, all would fall off until it had time to dry. If introducing clay, they would be shown how to make a ball, roll it, and by using different utensils are able to make a variety of designs, but it was up to them to create.

In using the materials, children were developing their small muscles. An excellent addition to making bean collages is giving them tweezers to use. Some first graders may still have difficulty using scissors. It’s not wise to force this or teach them how. They will accomplish cutting with confidence if they have enough time to develop the necessary small muscles. If an issue is made, they may become self conscious and resist even more. Children who can’t cut, every so often will pick up a pair of scissors and try it out. If it doesn’t work they put them down and choose something else to do. But one day, when they try it, it works!!! So they may spend the rest of the time cutting over and over again. And, as with everything else, when they’ve had enough time to cut in a haphazard manner, enough time to experiment with this new tool, they will begin to use them very purposely for their projects.

Some things were not offered very often. For instance, paper maché is not in the above list. It took too much time to finish – just ages before the whole class finished. Clay was expensive, so it wasn’t readily offered even though it was an excellent medium for them to use. They had an art class once or twice a week which included clay more often than in our class. For potato printing, since the potatoes didn’t last long, it was an occasional activity to make patterns on large paper to use as wrapping paper for parents’ presents.

It was important to begin offering materials a little at a time to see how the class handled all that was involved – to see how they used the materials and how much responsibility they had in caring for all. This determined how much variety could be offered. The rules that we had were only enough so that children could function comfortably. Accidents of course happened, and it was only important that they were willing and able to clean up the messes.

These concrete experiences added to their joy in creating and provided opportunities for increasing their cognitive development.

Read more about Choice Time and programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Programs for Six-, Seven-, and Eight-Year-Olds

What programs in my combined first and second grades provide the natural learning of childhood? Exploration, discovery, and experimentation are part of self-initiated learning stemming from children’s great strives to understand and absorb their world. Learning centers supply an enriched environment that keeps their minds active and allows them to strengthen and expand their concepts, the necessary equipment for good progress in the academic areas. So, a daily Choice Time in the math, science, art, writing, and book centers was very important. A happy productive time.

Then what about the instructional programs, those that would allow them to grow and still keep their love of learning that they arrived with? It was hoped that each program would be appealing by allowing children to identify with others, enhance and broaden their thinking, and enable them to understand and accept purposes for learning. Programs addressed a wide range of intellectual levels and abilities without limits for achievement. Programs that would, along with the learning centers, reinforce and extend their concepts.

So my challenge and hope was to never, or try never, to turn them off. Then I know their learning and growth could really accelerate.

Read more about these programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Physical Science for First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, physical science was one of the offerings for Choice Time – allowing participation and exploration while discussing and debating with their classmates. Children may learn as much from each other as they do from adults. Perhaps more. A center provides appropriate activities and materials to invite and nurture a child’s joy in discovery and excitement about learning.

Supplies

pulleys, levers, and gears                       microscopes

magnets                                                       paper airplanes

magnifiers                                                   motors

electricity                                                    batteries

There was a science kit with pulleys, levers, and gears. The children experimented with various contraptions.

There was a collection of magnets, horseshoe magnets and different size and strengths of bar magnets, used with all kinds of projects. There was much experimentation, such as discovering the poles that would attract and those that repelled, making an electromagnet, finding what substances magnetism would and would not go through, and magnetizing a needle and a nail. They observed a magnetic field using iron filings.

Electricity was a big favorite. The class learned about circuits and knowledge was extended when they learned about lights in a series, those that were parallel, and short circuits. There were small motors that they found a variety of activities for.

Science provides opportunities for increasing their cognitive development. Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about science and other programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

__________________________________________________________________________

Early Math Concepts for Young Children

In my combined first and second grade, activities during Choice Time provided children with opportunities to make discoveries and achieve mathematical understanding through play. In the Math Center, while constructing, playing games, and pondering puzzles they were problem solving, using logic, and gaining various concepts of number. The Art Center also provided opportunities for expanding math concepts through creating constructions, collages which involve sorting and classifying, and carrying out ideas for patterning. And throughout the year, there were studies and emphases on symmetry and patterning. These concepts are assets for good achievement, enabling children to fully understand their math. Plus, new math concepts in the district-required math books always involved concrete experiences and manipulatives. Lots of them in various forms. Yes, it’s possible for children to manage correct answers in their books without understanding, but that guarantees from about third grade on – huge difficulties. I always hoped that they would know how and why they arrived at their answers and see the purpose of learning math in their daily lives. Then good abstract math would follow.

The children also understood that there may not be only one right answer in all circumstances. They should think about it. You know, a three-year-old once taught me that 1 + 1 = 1. It was a beautiful day outside when he was concentrating upon pouring a heavy pail of water into his pail of sand. When he finished and looked down at his pail of sand he was shocked and asked, “Hey, what happened to my pail of water?” He found out that one pail of sand, plus one pail of water, equals one pail of wet sand. So, questioning results in class was encouraged, so that math could be fun and creative and encourage problem solving.

Learn more about the math program and Choice Time in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Animals and Natural Science in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. These concrete experiences served as a background for gaining new insights and understandings.

It isn’t important which things are offered but vital that science is a big part of young children’s lives. The resulted learning is immense. Science can promote curiosity, discovery, investigation, and experimentation resulting in extending children’s vocabulary, language, and concepts about their world. It offers opportunities to develop rational and critical thinking, and the skills of problem solving, comparing and contrasting, classification, and observation. There are also opportunities for significant reading and writing.

Supplies

a terrarium                                                           birds’ nests

feathers                                                                   plants, seeds, and bulbs

collections: shells, stones and rocks,                toads and turtles

fossils, bark, fall seeds, fungi, acorns,

microscopes chestnuts,

everything blue, etc.                                     lizards

land crabs                                                                  slugs

pumpkins                                                                   monarch caterpillars and butterflies

cycle of mealworms                                                         and others, plus chrysalises and

fish and snails                                                           cocoons

slugs mice

pollywogs                                                                   spiders

live and dried insects                                             snakes

ants                                                                             molds

crayfish                                                                     parakeet

praying mantis                                                       science books

magnifying glasses

The collections and materials above found their way in our science center during each year. An exciting exhibit in the early fall was monarch caterpillars and chrysalises. Children were busy watching closely the sequence of the life span until finally – the butterfly

There was always a forest terrarium to house whatever might be brought to school. In the fall we had many creatures that grew in the area. Most we would keep for about a month and then let them go in a proper place. In the spring, we would have local creatures again. Other animals and reptiles found their way into our terrarium from parents or purchases from the pet store. We sometimes had a toad that lived in the terrarium all winter and seemed to become quite tame. There was a never-ending interest watching the toad whipping out its extended tongue to eat a mealworm. And then raising mealworms to feed the toad continued our study of life cycles. (Mealworms can be raised in a box of oatmeal containing cut-up potatoes.)

We accepted anything that we could properly care for and the children could hold and catch. There wasn’t often an aquarium because interest was high during the talks and preparation but waned after the fish were introduced. It happened with anything that could not be held.

There were also collections, such as shells, fall seeds, and birds’ nests and feathers. While some sorted and classified shells, others tried to guess what properties were involved. A big display of fall seeds emphasized life cycles and how they travel through wind, animals and people. We read a book about various birds’ nests to help in identification. Observing the various birds’ feathers, children tried to determine what parts of the bird the feathers had originated from and what purpose each had.

With the help of books in the afternoons, children learned more about the exhibits in the science center. For instance, books could be about the differences between various nests, a toad and a frog, a butterfly and a moth, a turtle and a tortoise; the differences between instinct and learned behavior.

For insect study, there was a chart showing the five parts – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, two sets of wings and six legs. Then we looked and searched for small things to see if they were insects or not. What a classification feat that was!

Raising mice each January, we became involved in a study about genes and heredity. It was most exciting each time we had a new litter – which was very often. We transferred the knowledge about the mouse genetics to other animals and people.

During the spring, a variety of seeds were planted from those found in fruits and vegetables, such as apple and melon seeds and the eyes of potatoes plus an assortment of bulbs and flower seeds.

Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about Choice Time and the science program in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved