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Everything Old is New Again

There are classic children’s games, picture books and toys that stand the test of time.  At CHP, one of those vintage toys that made a resurgence is the jack-in-the-box.

I have many books, puppets, and jack-in-the-boxes in my office.  My first boxes were cast-offs from my children.  By accident, I found this toy to be a great way to soothe a crying child during phase-in.  We would sit on my couch and out came a box and the magic. Children who wandered into my office wanted to play with the boxes too and due to their popularity, I purchased more.  At this writing, I have seven. The boxes sit on a kid-sized shelf in my office for easy access.

Why the focus on this old fashioned toy? I found that there is a lot of learning in that Pop Goes the Weasel playing box! Students look through my child-sized office window and knock when they want to play.  Children who enter my office and find that they cannot just take a box, they need to speak with me first.  I have modeled what each child needs to do to borrow a box: First make eye contact with me and say, “Carol, may I please borrow a jack-in-box?”  I answer, “Of course, but when you finish playing with it, please bring it back.” 

This simple dialog teaches a child if you want something that belongs to someone else, you need to make eye contact and ask for it politely.  It is my hope that this little exercise will be applied again in other situations when a child needs to ask someone for something.  I have overheard some children speaking to their friends who have never borrowed a box, explaining what they need to say to borrow one.  They have become the teachers.

The children also learn that there are times when you can and cannot come into my office to borrow. On my door, at the children’s eye level, there is a two-sided sign. One side says, “It is NOT a jack-in-the-box day and the word NO. The image of the jack-in-the-boxes has an “X” through it. The flip-side of the sign says, “It IS a jack-in-the-box day” and the word YES. Students have learned to read this sign! I also created a little book, now located in the reading area, which tells, with words and pictures, how to borrow a jack-in-the-box. The children enjoy leafing through the book and listening to it when it is read by a teacher.

The jack-in-the-box has more play and learning opportunities.  It is a great fine-motor activity; children need to figure out the way to turn the crank and use a pincher grip to make it play. I have observed children turning the crank very slowly about the time they expect it to spring open.  I believe they are making predictions. When will it pop?  No matter when the little character pops up, it is a happy surprise. CHP kids really like to do this activity with friends, and games have evolved from this. Who can make their box pop first, or last.  I have also observed children negotiating turn taking, hearing things like, “When you are done, can I please use it?”  As we always say in CHP, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”  If the jack-in-the-box you want is in use, next time it just might be your turn.  At the end of play, children know it is their responsibility to return the box as that was the promise they made when they first borrowed it.

Because of this experience, I wonder if a single jack-in-the-box in your home would garner the same popularity as it has in CHP?  My first boxes came to CHP in pretty good shape because they were seldom played with. 
Whether in singular or group play, a toy is great when it is well played with. The more it’s played with, the more wear and tear. At this writing, Max the Wild Thing is nearing the end of his shelf life as he is not working so well anymore. I think that is the best thing you can say about the life of a toy is … it was well used.  Wild Thing boxes are no longer produced but have no fear, I ordered a new box last week… hint, think Puff the Magic Dragon!

There is No Place Like Home

Choosing the unit for the school year is a bit like catching lightening in a bottle.  Our program is tailored to the likes and interests of the children and the children are the ones who let us know what their interests are. This concept might seem strange to an adult learner, but preschoolers’ interests light their fires. Then, within the context of their interests, we infuse developmentally appropriate literacy, math, science, music, art and drama related to the unit concept. 

How do I find out what children want to learn more about?

It starts in the spring. I become a careful listener in the classroom in an effort to find out what the children might be interested in learning the following year. The unit needs to be broad enough to encompass all the disciplines.  I also work very closely with the staff at CHP.  We have weekly group meetings and I meet with each staff member individually.  Each spring, either from the students or the staff, I get an idea about what will be the unit for the following year. That’s the lightening in the bottle part! 

Last spring when the children were working on the amazing transportation mural located in our library area, Nancy, our art teacher, told me that the children working on the mural were just as excited to make the many little homes now on the mural as they were in making the fanciful transportation vehicles. Nancy and I often work closely on the art projects developed at CHP. Eureka! 

A unit about homes. So many possibilities! 

I mentioned the home unit to the staff before the school year ended and they were immediately on board!  This summer, I perused bookstores and websites to collect a nice cache of books (picture books, ABC books, science, math, and music books) featuring the concept of home.

This fall, together we will share what we know about our own homes. The unit will begin in Brooklyn. Your homework assignment is to send in a photo of your home and family.  Isn’t this a nice way for us all to get to know each other?  If you like, please reach out to your family. Maybe someone in your extended family might want to send in a photo of his or her home outside the urban confines of NYC. An interesting home in NYC would be great too! 

Once the unit is underway, we will branch out to explore what we want to know about parts unknown, animal homes and the like. We will eventually cap off the unit with what we have learned about what makes a home a home.

I am very excited about this unit.  It's going to be a great year!

Sophie’s Squash

May’s Book of the Month selection is Sophie’s Squash, a picture book story about gardening, seasons, loyalty, forever friendship, love and life.  Why post a Book of the Month and Carol’s Wall installment about the same subject?   Read on!

As you know, every staff member at CHP reads to, at least, one snack group a week.  I am very happy that I am included in the rotation.  I am a grand children’s picture book lover and am always researching great new books for the CHP library.  When I find one, I share it with the staff and introduce it at my snack time read.  After I read, I ask the children for questions or comments about the new book.  The best way I know which new book is a “winner” is by the attention of the group—the children are quiet and poised to hear what will happen next and I can see their happy faces at the conclusion of the book.

At my first snack read of Sophie’s Squash, Caroline Ryburn was helping out.  She had never heard of the new book before.  After the read, Caroline shared a personal story. Caroline’s children, Dora and Julian, were both students at CHP.  Dora was in my first class at CHP and Julian was born while Caroline was teaching at CHP. Now he is a college freshman! 

Caroline told us that, when Julian was about four years old, she brought home a goose-neck squash for dinner. Like Sophie, Julian fell in love with the squash, so much so, that he gave it a name: Timmy. Caroline’s family never ate the squash as it became a little vegetable member of the family. With time, Timmy got old and began to rot. So many years later, Caroline and her family still remember Timmy the squash!

After Caroline shared her story, I decided to buy a squash for CHP.  As I stood in the fruit store, I picked up each squash to see which one would be the right weight for the children in the classroom. Ironically, I felt very maternal holding each butternut squash like a baby!  I brought my choice to CHP and Lizzie put a face on the squash with a Sharpie pen.  Our “Bernice” has been very popular!  Amanda has been working on a measurement unit, so of course the students weighed and measured our new addition.   Our little “Bernice” wears a little orange bow on its head, and students often carry it around the classroom, wrapped in a blanket. Bernice even gets a bottle every now and then. 

We are going to play with our squash until it gets older, freckled and soft, just like the squash in the book. Once our squash begins to rot, Lizzie will invite the children to the science center to plant the squash seeds inside, and then wait and watch to see what happens.

I thought this Carol’s Wall would be about Sophie and her squash, just in case you might want to follow our lead at home.  If your children loved this story, take a walk to K and Y on Court Street or your favorite fruit stand and let your child pick out their own squash.  Go home and decorate it, name it, but do not eat it for dinner!  Once the squash begins to decay, cut it open, remove the seeds and plant them. 

In this age of technology, there is something so dear about playing with a vegetable and experiencing the wonders of nature first hand.  I wish my own children were little again, so that I could buy the squash of their choosing--I know just where in my yard I would plant it too!

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