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

Estimating with First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade since there weren’t any estimating activities in our math text, for some days at a time estimating was presented as a puzzle to the class. There was a bottle of objects, such as kidney beans, macaroni, buttons, or paper clips to estimate, followed each day with different contents. For a while, the same-sized bottle was used, but as time went on, various sizes were used. Each morning, children would write down their estimate, and later in the morning, some children would count the contents. They would put all in piles of 10s, then combine to make piles of 100s until  the exact number was announced to all. We brainstormed to see what successful methods could be used to get better estimates. Children seemed to enjoy this activity and certainly did improve in their ability.

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

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Three Different Story Plots for Young Children

In my combined first and second grade, children really enjoyed learning about three different story plots: A  progressive plot as found in “The House That Jack Built” keeps building up step by step throughout the story until the climax begins to resolve before the ending. Episodic plots are chapter books, and parallel plots such as the two plots proceeding side by side as in Blueberries for Sal. Children learned this very easily and liked to identify it in literature read to them or in stories they read themselves. And sometimes a child would use the progressive plot or the parallel plot in a story she was writing.

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

Peg Puzzles in a Math Center

Wooden peg puzzles made using golf tees for the pegs:

Triangular Peg Puzzle: This involved discovering a strategy to solve it. Using a square piece of wood about 3 ½” square, holes are drilled to fit golf tees with five on the bottom row, four above that, then three, then two and finally one at the top forming a triangle. Golf tees are inserted in all the holes but one, usually the top one. The procedure is to jump a peg, remove the jumped peg and continuing to remove each jumped peg. Only one peg may be jumped at a time. The goal is to remove all pegs.

Ten Men in a Boat Puzzle: This puzzle uses logic while trying to discover a pattern. In a piece of wood, 1” x 2” x 12”, 11 evenly spaced holes are drilled in the wooden “boat” to accept  golf tees representing  ten men. There are five of each in two different colors. Starting on the left side, there are five of one color, an empty hole, and then five of a different color. (If a set of wooden boats cannot be made, coins or paper clips or other markers could be used on a paper boat having eleven squares arranged in a row.)

Children are told the following story and directions:

There are two teams of five men each in a narrow boat who decide they want to switch seats with the other team in the middle of a river. They agree to the following rules so the boat won’t tip over: 1) One man may only step over (jump) one other man at a time. 2) One man may move to the next empty seat. 3) A man may only jump over another man of a different color.

When students are successful using the above rules, another rule is added: 4) A man may only move forward toward the other side of the boat, never moving backwards.

When children are used to playing the game, they are asked to determine how few moves are needed to switch the teams of men. Not easy for young children. So then it could be done together to discover how many moves it takes.

Learn more about the math program, along with  games and activities,  in a combined first and second grade class 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

A Literature Study for an Early Childhood Class

A study of literature allows opportunities for children to further enjoy reading on their own – hopefully a lifetime pursuit. The more a child thinks, feels, and understands his reading, the more enjoyment he attains.

For the first year in my combined first and second grade, only top second grade students were involved – which was a mistake. All children, I soon found out, could benefit. From then on the Literature Group, meeting for one semester, included all second graders and a few first graders who were reading and beyond the beginning program. Most of the second graders were very capable, but a few had varying degrees of learning disabilities.

The intent of the program was to allow children opportunities to develop an appreciation and understanding of literature through an integrated language arts curriculum, utilizing various modes of thinking. Offering a collection of literature by itself is not enough. Children’s concepts are constantly being added to, modified, or revised. In addition to being exposed to literature, children also need a variety of thinking strategies. Children were involved with questions that fused components of literature with various cognitive processes. For instance, one question might be, “Name one thing about (character) that is not real. What other characters are there in stories that are like this?” So, these questions involve understanding and analyzing the qualities of the character.

After children had read a selection, they discussed the answers to questions with a partner. Answers were then shared with the whole group, including my thoughts. Answers were written to some of the questions by making a first and second draft plus occasionally engaging in a non-verbal activity such as art. Each child kept her writing in a booklet. All children contributed to discussions. During the reading and writing phase, many children worked independently, some with help in reading while a few would dictate their ideas for writing and receive help in writing their second drafts. But all would create answers to questions with their own ideas. While children were reading, discussing, writing, or artistically involved, they were sharing and creating experiences at their own comprehension level.

Learn more about the literature program and how to design your own program combining components of literature with cognitive processes 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

A Study of Maps for First and Second Grade

“As I draw something on the blackboard, try to guess what it is, and if you know, raise your hand – but be sure to keep it a secret,” my combined first and second grade were was told. As I drew the map of the room, keeping it secret kept children intent upon the goal without spoiling it for others while deciding for themselves. When I finished, and the correct answer was given, as they sat on the rug watching where I put an X, they were to raise their hands if they could go to that spot in the room. There was a huge variation – some that accomplished it with ease to those who were near but not quite there to those who went to the wrong place. Map study is very difficult for many young children incapable of transferring symbols to concrete surroundings.

So for the next activity a map of the school was given to a pair of children, hopefully of equal ability. The map had major areas such as the art and music rooms, the cafeteria, etc. identified, but all classrooms except ours was left blank. Each map for a pair of children had 4 X’s marked on different classrooms in the building. Each pair was to go to the X classrooms, look at the numbers on the doors, discuss it, and then record the numbers of the doors on their map. (They were to try very hard not to disturb any classes and to be as quiet as possible.) Again, there were variations with only a few having no difficulty, some identifying two out of the four, and some unable to find any. And this was a map of a building that they used daily.

So, why are young children expected to understand maps of a town, city, state, nation – and the world??? They can’t. Well, a few may be able to understand very local maps of our class, school, and maps of Kiddiecity and Miniville, built in our classroom, but very few. Children certainly can learn to give the correct answers, but most without any adequate concept.

A more experienced teacher told me about her explanation to develop an understanding of larger areas, such as towns, states, and the USA. And that was to draw three concentric circles on the board. In the middle was Fayetteville, the town we lived in; the middle circle was New York State; and the outer circle the United States. Preceding this, we used the same circles as we thought about each having a bedroom, in a house, in a neighborhood, in Fayetteville and then in our classroom, in our school, in our town.

Since I was unconvinced that they were old enough, lost enough egocentricity, to fully understand the concepts, I decided one year to do an experiment. Throughout the year, I showed them books, newspaper pictures, and maps of cities and states explaining the similarities and differences. My plan at the end of the year was to give each child two pieces of paper and ask them to create any kind of a city map on one piece and a state map on the other. Each one would not have to duplicate a real one. It could be imaginary. Well, we ran out of time with finishing the end of the year projects. I told the class about my plan that we couldn’t do, because the end of school was so close. I asked them if each received two pieces of paper, could they draw a city map on one and a state map on the other. Without exception, they nodded their heads in agreement and saying of course they could do it easily. So I asked what would be the difference in the city map and the state map. Expecting inaccuracies, I was still surprised at their answers, as they related things like, “There would be more grass, butterflies, birds and dirt in the city than the state.” etc. As each answer was given, heads nodded in agreement. They had no idea concerning the relationship of one to the other, except for one child. And, I had many very bright children. Only one girl looked puzzled as each gave their answer. When I questioned her, she did indeed have a correct concept of the differences. She was only in our school for three years before returning to Europe. She had flown back and forth three times. So she saw the differences from the airplane.

There’s nothing wrong to introduce young children to simple maps of their classroom, school and town and then of our country and the world, but it is wrong to believe that correct answers indicate accurate concepts.  Children may understand how small a map of our classroom and school is compared to the real thing and know that a map or globe of our world is very small in comparison, but their responses may be purely verbal without a good concept. Young children are able to put a United States puzzle together correctly, but it isn’t any different than putting a picture puzzle together. They may only have known or learned what shapes go beside another, not what a vast expanse of land it is compared to their town or school or home.

Learn more about 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

Fairy Tales for Young Children

Children seemed captivated with fairy tales read to them in my combined first and second grade classes. Perhaps this great interest was because the plots begin and move along quickly with simple but well-defined characters. Most begin with a problem which is solved by the end, quite often involving magic. Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects is contained in the happy endings, even in different versions of the same story. No matter how difficult the problems are, they are solved. One might argue that life’s problems do not always have happy endings, that it is not a realistic view. However, how many successful solutions can be achieved without the belief that it’s possible?

There are sometimes debates about the suitability of fairy tales for young minds because of the violence. However, the violence in fairy tales provides an acceptable outlet, and it is never rewarded or in any way viewed as acceptable. And children can readily identify with the good characters.

Fairy tales are also a good beginning for understanding more complex symbolism in literature later on. Most often each character, whether good or evil, is entirely pure throughout, never displaying any other trait. Contrasts are most apt to be clearly portrayed, such as good vs. evil and rich vs. poor. A large bulletin board displayed fairy tale book covers with the following words: characters, good vs. evil, powerful, greed, brave, beauty, jealousy, obedient, violence, magic, problem solving, kindness, pride, trustworthy, rich vs. poor, and Does it teach a lesson? The bulletin board served as a reminder, for both children and teacher, of what traits might be applied to the fairy tale just read. It was explained that those words were not often, or ever, used in the story, and children were then asked what parts of the story enabled them to identify each character’s personality. Children became quite proficient at identifying the various qualities. And all of their understanding, of course, was an aid for their own personal story writing.

Read about reading and writing 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

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

Plant Experiments with Lima Beans for First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grades, before carrying out lima bean experiments, planting books were regularly read to the class. There was a thorough review of the required conditions for healthy plant growth – good soil, water, light, and warmth. There was also information about how scientists formed a hypothesis – what they thought would happen and why.

When it was time for carrying out the experiments, lima beans were soaked in water for ½ hour. They loved opening up some of them to see the small plant inside each bean. Then children in groups of three or four planted two lima beans in each of three ½ pint milk cartons. The control plant would be planted in the right condition while the other two would each have one condition changed. They were to decide what the changed condition of their experimental plants would be and the names of all three.

Children wrote a first report explaining the names of the plants, what the changed condition would be, and making their hypotheses. There were ideas on the blackboard to help in writing this report.

Throughout the years there were such a variety of changed conditions. Water and soil were most common using liquids such as sodas, juices, and sauces. Much imagination was used for the planting materials as in assorted cereals, sand, sawdust, styrofoam, peanut butter, and pine needles. For only one year, a changed condition was warmth using the nurse’s refrigerator. However, it wasn’t viewed favorably having the experiment in with the medications. and daily those children had to go down and look. Of course, there wasn’t any growth, so in future years, it was just explained what happened that year, and we skipped changing that condition. It was common to grow one in the dark and they found that interesting because they usually predicted, since it needed light, that it wouldn’t grow. But at first it grew very well and some days later found that it became very spindly. Others altered the light by enclosing the plant with a tent of colored cellophane.

Each group had the items for their experiment listed on a 3”x 5”index card covered with cellophane, with the pertinent information. For example: Silly, Cool One, and Gentle: changed conditions – Silly watered with grape juice/Cool One watered with lemonade/Gentle, the control plant.

Every morning upon arrival, children would scurry over to their experiment to see what, if any, changes had taken place since the previous afternoon. Of course, Monday mornings were most intriguing.

After several or more weeks of observing, final reports were written explaining the results.

Read more about the science program and the experiments 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

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved