Sunday, 26 March 2017

Scruffy's Adventures: How the gift of a stuffed dog encouraged literacy, math, and home connections!

If you follow this blog, you may remember reading about the Aboriginal Card Fundraiser the children decided to do with the intention of supporting the Toronto Humane Society and the Toronto Wildlife Centre with the proceeds raised. As a thank you, both organizations gave us certificates of appreciation which the children proudly placed on the classroom door for all to see. The Toronto Humane Society also included a few pamphlets about good pet care, a calendar and a dog stuffy.

My teaching partner, Mrs. Kinsey shared her experience with the children of delivering the funds raised from the Aboriginal cards to the Toronto Humane Society. She told them about getting to meet a few of the dogs and cats and explained to the children how the money they raised would help the animals at the shelter. She showed the children photos she took of some of the animals and then showed them the stuffed dog that was given to us as a thank you. 

The children were so excited to see the stuffed dog with the green t-shirt that read "Toronto Humane Society"! I was glad they had something tangible to play with in the classroom and that is as far as I thought this stuffed toy would go. But children can have the best ideas! Within minutes everyone started to discuss what they could do with the dog. Ideas were flying about naming the dog, taking it home, leaving it in the classroom, etc. 

I decided to start with naming the dog. As with most decisions we make in the classroom, we voted on a few suggested names. The winner, originally thought by T. H. was "Scruffy"!

Once the name was chosen, D. F. thought we should write a list of all the children's names on the chart paper and then everyone would get to take Scruffy home for the night and return him the next day to give to the next person on the list. The idea was voted on and unanimously everyone loved the idea.

And so began Scruffy's Adventures for the next month and a half. I did not give any direction as to what the children should do with Scruffy at home. All I asked for was that a photo be sent to me for sharing purposes for the following day. As the photos came in our idea grew and the children decided they wanted to make a book with them. Luckily this idea was generated early on so that I made sure everyone had a photo of themselves with Scruffy to include in the class book.

*I printed out photos each evening and had the children write about their experiences with Scruffy the following day during our Log Book writing time.

Below are the pages from our classroom book titled: Scurffy's Adventures! It was so great to see the way the families supported this project at home. The activities captured were unique and delightful. I especially loved the way it seemed to bring together siblings, family pets, and parents.

Once everyone had a turn to take Scruffy home and we finished the book I decided to create a challenge at the Construction Area using Scruffy. Since there was still interest in Scruffy I asked the children if they wanted to build Scruffy a bed? The challenge was to build a tall bed for Scruffy that was stable and to measure the height and record the results on the chart stand beside their name. Some children wanted to work with a partner and some wanted to work alone. This challenge allowed for some wonderful discussion about what stability means and how to make something stable. As the the children started to measure their structures, discussions about appropriate materials to use and the best way to compare structures were discussed. 

Below are photos of Scruffy's bed challenge!

I decided to share and blog about these experiences because I can't believe how much leaning was a result of this stuffed toy. What I am also amazed at is how the children took the lead on many aspects of the learning that have taken place. I tried several times throughout my teaching career to "create" learning experiences using certain toys but I found they never really took off like this experience. I suspect it may be due to the fact that Scruffy was gifted to the children by an organization and past experience that was important to them. They had a connection to the previous project which made this a bit more authentic rather than if I just brought in the stuffed dog on my own. Whatever the case, I am very proud of the learning and the fun the children, families, and us as educators had along the way.

Thank you Toronto Humane Society for the gift. It was well received and used!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sketching Time

"We don't expect all children to become poets or novelists or essayists, but we teach all children to read and write because we want them to be confident, expressive communicators. Similarly, we don't expect all children to become professional artists, making their living through painting or sculpture. We do, however, teach children how to use a range of art media so that they may communicate their ideas, experiences, emotions, questions, and insights in many languages. And, we want children to know beauty, creativity, and expressive emotion." 
(Pelo, Ann. The Language of Art, pg. 3)

Over the past four years, thirty minutes has been set aside once a week for a period called Sketching Time. During Sketching Time, the children are introduced to new art techniques, the use of new art materials, and are provided with a guided modeled lesson to support their understanding and learning.

For the past month, the children have been learning and practicing how to best sketch their friends. Using a pencil and working in their individual sketch books, the children became more aware of lines and shapes. With encouragement, the children started to become more comfortable looking closely at their friend's features and sketching what they saw. In their first attempt at sketching, children were made aware of the elements that were missing, e.g., eye lashes, ears, short/long hair, etc. Once their pencil drawing was complete, the children learned that using a sharpie to trace over their pencil marks highlighted their sketch and drew attention to the lines and contours used. Introducing colour by using water colour paints involved another guided lesson. The children learned about using only certain colours that they saw reflected in their friend's features. Blending and colour mixing were other important skills learned as the children soon realized that some of the colours they needed were not found in their paint selection.   

In the classroom, many items are sorted by some attribute including the paint brushes. Sorted by the size of the bristle I've noticed encourages the children to make more thoughtful selections when creating. During another guided lesson, the children experimented with the various brush sizes allowing them to become familiar with the type of marking they produce. For the friendship sketching project, the children practiced using the various brush sizes and learned the technique of dipping the brush into the water, wiping it on the side of the jar, then proceeding to dab it into the water colour of choice. Depending on the feature they were painting, they became more confident in choosing the appropriate brush size needed.

As mentioned, the children have individual sketch books. These books are used to practice particular art techniques and using new art materials. The children have used oil and chalk pastels, water colour pencils, pasel pencils, charcoal, water colour and acrylic paints, and sharpies. Sketching Time is not only necessarily about sketching. During this time the children have also had the opportunity to explore plasticine and clay, wire, and natural materials to produce art.

Below are a few snapshots of the children working on their friendship sketches.

"Art explorations are rich experiences for children. They inspire scientific investigation, as children seek to understand the qualities and uses of an art medium. They spark collaboration and strengthen relationships among children, as children share discoveries, coach each other about strategies to try with an art medium, and work together on a creation. They demand focused attention and physical finesse. They stir the senses and emotion, delighting eyes, hands, and heart." 
(Pelo, Ann. The Language of Art, pg. 13)

C. F. was absent for this photo.