Tuesday, March 1, 2016

From Boxes to Bathtubs:

Transforming Creative Play

Did you know that back in 2005 the seemingly simple cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame? No Joke.  So, along with those little green army men, the Rubik's Cube and good 'ol Scrabble, the Cardboard Box is listed as an iconic children's toy. It was appreciated not just for what it is, but for what it can become. Boxes create opportunities for learning. But, how?

 Everyone has heard that kids love to play with cardboard boxes, but did you ever stop to think about all the fantastic learning that occurs when transforming a box into a plaything? I was reminded the other day (ahem, ok, probably about 3 years ago!) while watching my own little one explore and discover a simple cardboard box.

This is what happened:

"Ding, dong." (that's the sound of our doorbell...)
I rush to the door. Amazon has miraculously done it again.
"I just ordered these two days ago, and they're  already here...AMAZING!"
As I unpack my goodies, my Toddler stands next to me anxiously waiting for the boxes. Once emptied, I give her the boxes with all the plastic bubble wrap filling.  As my daughter drags away her new box and plastic bubble wrap, our dog hides under the table. He knows what's coming next.

"Pop, Pop, Pop!".  He abhors the sound of popping bubble wrap.
I soothe our pooch and leave my daughter playing with her box while I inspect my merchandise. As time passes by, I realize the house is REALLY quiet. Fearing that this might not be a good sign, but hoping that my daughter FINALLY learned to play independently, I peek around the corner and to my amazement, my daughter had essentially built a nursery for her dolls. She had taken one box, filled it with some of the plastic bubble wrap and was bathing her babies in their new "bath". She had taken another box and had used the leftover bubble wrap as a mattress and neatly covered it with a doll-sized blanket. I watched as she ventured into her new bubble bath box, (or is it box bubble bath?) and smiled with glee as she squeezed through all her "bubbles" and then proceeded to take her own bubble bath. She laughed as she played independently in her new self constructed nursery. She played for hours with this box over the course of a week. It became a doll table, a car, a train and so much more!

Although our dog might be traumatized from that day, I know my little Toddler was being innovative and gained a lot of confidence as she created so many different play opportunities for herself.

As a Preschool Teacher and Director for many years, I recognize the value of the cardboard box. And when placed in a studio classroom of young learners, wow, the possibilities become ENDLESS and dynamic! Armed with the right environment (Teachers/Parents willing to let children discover), and with the child's imagination, a child can transform a box into almost ANYTHING. As Teachers, (Parents included, because you are your child's first teacher), we can intentionally place certain items into a child's surroundings to create an environment for learning.

Cardboard boxes really can foster so much learning, exploration and discovery while playing. During box play your child is developing his/her:

*Spatial Awareness
*Problem Solving
*Critical Thinking
*Decision Making
*Fine Motor Skills
*Gross Motor Skills
*Engineering Skills
*Math Skills
*Vocabulary Development
*and More!

Consider adding boxes to transform your preschool (or your living room) Creative Play area to reflect a specific theme. Involve children in the process. Ask, "What should we make?" "How will we make it?"  "What materials do we need to make it...?"

This will make your child's learning experiences relevant and engaging. Make an ice cream or lemonade stand and they will naturally begin learning about money/entrepreneurship. Make a box city and learn about community helpers, government and directions. Make a drive-through, add a list of foods and increase communication and reading skills. Make a kitchen, washer or dryer and develop fine motor skills while completing "chores". Make a puppet theater and increase cooperation, vocabulary, the ability to story tell with a beginning, middle, and an end, and develop confidence when the "audience' claps at the finale!

As you can see, cardboard boxes can be a part of  preschool classrooms, as they create R. E. A. L. (Relevant, Engaging, Active Learning) opportunities. Who knew a cardboard box could foster so much learning, creativity and discovery?

At Brilliant Kids Christian Academy, we change our Dramatic Play areas in order to immerse children in playing out real-life. Children LOVE pretend play and we LOVE to foster their positive growth and development as we bring intentional tools into our studio classrooms. Look for us in the Cedar Park area. Coming Soon.

If you're passionate about finding the best early learning opportunities for your child, visit us and LIKE us at https://www.facebook.com/brilliantkidschristianacademy

Monday, January 11, 2016

Out of the Classroom, Into the Studio

Redefining the Classroom—Wait, What? Can We Do That?

A traditional classroom space is seen as a room where students go to be taught; it's where the Teacher houses their instructional materials and essentially teaches lessons to the children based on a preset curriculum with certain goals in mind.

The Studio environment, on the other hand, reflects more on how the classroom space is used as well as how the children learn in that space. The Studio space reflects the nuances of the children's experiences: the thought processes of inquiry and discovery and the type of exploration and experimentation that occurs based on the children's interests. The Studio is an environment that is lived in and ever changing to allow for opportunities in learning—it is a place to be creative and actively construct knowledge. It is open, airy, and reflects the children's ideas. It "moves" and "breathes" with the  development of the children who use it. It is alive with R.E.A.L. (Relevant, Engaging, Active Learning) experiences. The Studio space produces thinkers at higher achieving levels because the students are able to showcase the evidence of their learning with hands-on activities that resonate with them—whether it be in art, music & movement, language, technology, math and/or the sciences.  There are opportunities for STEM activities, leadership, creativity, and many hands-on learning modalities that produce the same "traditional" goals, but with so much more practicality and applicability.

I like to use a simple dust particle as an analogy:

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."  Genesis 2:7

How does this verse from the Bible provide any relevance to the topic? Man, formed from the dust of the ground, contained all the necessary elements, but it was only after God breathed the breath of life, did Man become a LIVING soul. Along the same line, the traditional classroom may very well contain all the "necessary" elements to learn, but the Studio environment gives the breath of life, so to speak, that makes the learning come ALIVE!

So, we invite all educators, beginning in preschool through the formative years of a child's life, to rethink the classroom.

At BKC Academy we take our Studio classroom model from the Reggio Emilia methodologies, where the classroom environment itself serves as the "third teacher".  As no two Reggio Emilia inspired schools look the same, we are excited to create our own community of Thinkers and Doers. Our Studios provide a 21st century Christ-centered environment.  Our community of young learners and their families are passionate about God and passionate about education.

At Brilliant Kids Christian Academy, we have come out of the traditional classroom and moved into the Studio. Yes, we CAN do that!

Learn a little about Reggio Emilia here.

Visit us at www.brilliantkidsacademy.com where we open the doors to your child's unique brilliance. (Coming Soon!)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

STEM in Preschool... Really?

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering & Math. The thought of memorizing the periodic table and doing quadratic equations may make you shudder, but when introduced properly, young children can experience and enjoy STEM concepts because of their zest for learning and their innate curiosity about the world.

In fact, when you think about it, children are involved in the process of science all the time! They observe their natural world and form inquiries and hypotheses. Ever heard a child ask, "Why" or "How come?"

In addition, science & engineering concepts are some of the most natural and dynamic processes of learning that can occur during your child's day. Basketball not bouncing? Try to bounce it with the children before and after pumping it and then compare how high it bounces. Before pumping fresh air in the ball, ask, "Why isn't the ball bouncing?" Let children come up with ideas on what they think the ball needs to be able to bounce. Then ask something like, "What do you think will happen when..."  and after pumping air, ask, "How is the ball different now? What has changed?"  Based on the child's age, some vocabulary that might come up while observing is: heavier, lighter, harder, softer, bouncier, flat, bigger.  Document what you and the children are learning and test out other types of balls. Do they react the same way? How did the original size of the ball affect the outcome? Did you have to pump the same amount of air into different sized balls? Why or why not?  Is air the only thing that will make it bounce higher? Have children simmer over these concepts and if caring for a group, have each child bring in balls they have at home to test the next day. Document their findings so they can reflect on their experiences and make their learning visible.

Congratulations! You've just completed a science & engineering lesson on air and weight (and whatever else came up during the process of exploration and discovery). Make a comparison graph and now you're adding in a math component as well! Use the internet with the child/children to look up any information you may not be able to answer yourself and take a video and/or pictures of the process- you've also added in technology.

As you can see, early childhood is the best time to introduce these STEM concepts, as children have a natural desire to participate in hands on learning and can develop critical thinking skills when given the opportunity.

What our experienced Early Childhood Educators at BKC Academy do is provide engaging opportunities for preschool children to predict, explore, ask questions, experiment and form conclusions in a way the child can relate to. STEM, therefore, is not a daunting task of forced, rote, static learning, but is in fact a dynamic and inspirational way to learn by reasoning, predicting, hypothesizing and even inventing!

Now, who can shudder at this approach to learning?

Learn more about STEM  here.

Visit us at www.brilliantkidsacademy.com where we open the doors to your child's unique brilliance. (Coming Fall 2016)