Early Childhood Classroom Observation
Recently, I observed a preschool classroom for three hours at a Learning Center, located in Tomball, Texas. The teacher’s name was Ms. Taylor, and she was an excellent teacher to observe and learn from.
At 8:00 a.m., Ms. Taylor began her class activity with a sing-along song on a compact disc, accompanied by a corresponding picture book with written lyrics in large type for the children to follow the words with their eyes as they sang. All the children participated in the song and seemed to enjoy this activity very much.
The letter of the week was “I,” and the teacher had lessons all week that contained words that began with the letter “I,” including “igloo” and “ice cream.” She called on each child individually to come forward and whisper an “I” word in her ear. Ms. Taylor explained to me that she had the children whisper their words so she could better assess their knowledge. If she had asked them to say the word out loud, they all would have said the same “I” word, and she would not know who really knew the word. She recorded their answers, and gave them a star sticker if their answer was correct. Then she told them to choose center to “play” in.
There are seven centers: blocks, drama, doll house, arts and crafts, math, science and reading. I started at the block center where three children were working together building Lego structures. They laughed, talked and grabbed objects from each other’s hands, but they continued building harmoniously. I sat down next to them, and one girl at the table told me casually that her mom and dad fought a lot, so she and her mother had moved out of their house and into an apartment away from her father. She described this sad situation very matter-of- factly, while working with the Legos. This made me realize that children come to school thinking about their family problems and need to talk about them.
Next, at the drama center, two girls and one boy dressed up in sequined gowns and hats. This center was equipped with costumes, props, a mirror, and a table with two chairs. The children were playing closely together, but not with each other. Mildren Parten classified this stage of play as “parallel play,” where children play in the same area and with the same materials, but without interacting.
At the doll house center, one girl and one boy played together rearranging the doll house’s furniture. The boy spontaneously kicked down a room arrangement the girl had just made. I thought this would make the girl cry, but instead, she looked at me and said with a smile, “I will create a new room.” She seemed very mature.
Then, I visited the math station, which had an abacus, peg, counting numbered blocks, geometric shapes, string beads, weights and a scale. A girl was working alone at the table, putting together an owl puzzle. She completed the owl puzzle and named all the numbers used in the puzzle. She asked me to tell her more about owls. I told her that owls are birds that mostly sleep during the day and come out at night. Owls sit on a branch high in a tree and make “whoo, whoo” sounds. The girl told me that she had heard that sound before, and now she would know it was an owl the next time she heard it.
Next, I made my way over to the science center. It was quite impressive. Hanging over the table was a mobile of our entire solar system. There also was an insect collection on the cabinet top, along with magnifying glasses, pictures of the internal human body, a globe, maps of all the continents, and a plastic light-up board of the solar system. Two girls and one boy were playing in this center. They asked me to name for them all the planets on the light-up solar system board. They were very fascinated with the planets on the board, and then we compared it with the solar system poster on the wall. The children pulled everything off the science shelves one by one and asked me to explain each item to them. So I sat down at the table and talked about each item they handed me. They were extremely eager to learn and listened intently. Our textbook describes children at this age as being enthusiastic learners, like sponges, and I found this description to be very accurate.
Then, I observed the children at the art center. They were painting black bats on white paper plates for Halloween. I noticed the way they held the paint brushes. One boy was holding a brush in his fist, like a knife, while the three girls were holding their brushes like a pencil. I found this interesting, because our textbook also states that girls generally develop fine motor skills before boys.
Ms. Taylor announced that is was time to clean up the centers, which is a chore that the children are responsible for. When everything was put away, it was time for recess. I thought Ms. Taylor was very cunning to give the children perhaps the most effective form of motivation by mentioning recess. The children put everything away in its proper place and lined up at the door. They asked me if I was going outside with them, because they wanted to chase me. How could I resist?
The playground was equipped with a huge wooden jungle gym, a sand box, a playhouse, slides and see-saws. The children chased me, and I chased them. Then, I sat down to watch how they played. I observed incidences of cooperative play when several of the girls and boys formed a human train as they wend down the slide together. A few children engaged in solitary play, but most of the children exhibited associative play, where they would play together for a while, then quickly move to play with someone else.
After recess, we returned to Ms. Taylor’s classroom. I sat with the children at circle time and sang their favorite songs with them. Ms. Taylor asked me if I would read to the children so she could finish decorating the walls with their Halloween art projects and other Halloween decorations. I was delighted to do so and read the books that the children picked out. I thoroughly enjoyed reading to the children, and I followed the animated reading styled the you have demonstrated for us in class when you read your favorite picture books. Watching you read picture books was extremely helpful in this situation, as it gave me a good example of how I am supposed to read books to children.
It was now approaching 11:00 a.m., and Ms. Taylor was finished with the Halloween decorations. She announced that it was almost time for lunch, so the children lined up to wash their hands. I was impressed to see that Ms. Taylor stresses good hygiene practices for the children. They lined up at the door in an orderly fashion to walk to the lunch room.
I told the class how much I had enjoyed spending the morning with them and that I would like to visit them again. I also thanked Ms. Taylor for letting me observe. Looking back, there were no major discipline problems that Ms. Taylor had to address. The children seemed to know the daily routine and enjoyed being in Ms. Taylor’s class. In my opinion, the Discovery Playhouse Learning Center is a high-quality facility that provides an excellent setting for children to learn new skills and develop socially.
My Kindergarten Philosophy
By Anne Eaves
I designed a kindergarten classroom in an effort to provide children a fun and comfortable place to explore their natural curiosities and promote self discovery, and to meet the needs of a diverse group of young learners. Kindergarten is a transition time period for children to gain new skills and build confidence needed to enter the first grade. I believe the best way to meet these needs is to create a classroom environment with developmentally appropriate activities and opportunities for meaningful experiences, combined with a well-balanced curriculum that reflects the genuine interests of the students.
The arrangement of the furniture and learning materials was created to provide easy accessibility for the children, as well as providing maximum visibility for the teacher to supervise. My teaching philosophy emphasizes the love of books and reading. The Reading Center is positioned in the heart of the classroom to supply the foundations of fun reading experiences. My Reading Center is filled with a conglomerate of literary materials and cozy seating, including two couches, two bookshelves and a rug. The book collection includes old favorites from the Dr. Seuss library, cassette books and quality literature of classic tales and nursery rhymes. The three specific learning objectives that I would post in the classroom for the year are (1) how to take proper care of books, (2) the concept of print with the understanding that words are read top to bottom and left to right, and (3) story telling by actively participating in shared reading activities, retelling stories, making predictions about the stories’ events and personalizing the meaning from the text.
The Art Center is located in the far right corner of the room, next to cabinets that are handy places to store all art supplies, including paints, brushes, glue, scissors, crayons, play dough and a kit of art projects. This is where the students will create wonderful works of art. Three learning objectives I will post for the Art Center are (1) demonstrating pride in art accomplishments by hanging self-expressive projects on the wall for everyone to admire, (2) developing fine motor skills by learning how to hold and manipulate paint brushes and other art tools, and (3) practicing the creation of art elements such as lines, colors, space and composition.
The Block Center is positioned in the far left hand corner. This area is a building and construction zone for young architects. I have also included hardwood play vehicles and a 3’ x 6’ Amigos Rug with English and Spanish words for ESL children. Three valuable learning objectives I plan to post this year are (1) collaborating with others to build configurations, (2) broaden math skill concepts, including balance, height, length and proportion of objects, and (3) learning problem solving skills.
The Math Center has diagonally positioned shelves to separate it from the Block Center. The Math Center is equipped with a computer station, math games, activity cubes, an abacus, pegs, play money, and a table with three chairs. Three objectives I would like to post are (1) counting objects, adding and subtracting, (2) patterning shapes, and (3) developing problem solving skills.
The Science Center is located in the middle of the left wall. This center has an insect collection, magnifying glasses, an animal puzzle set, a magnet kit, a table with three chairs, and a computer to further explore specific areas of science. Several objectives I can post are (1) observation techniques using a magnifying glass, (2) studying magnetic forces, and (3) recognizing diverse animal species.
The Language Arts Center is located in the front left corner of the room. This center is furnished with a chalk board, overhead projector, a sentence-building overhead kit, alphabet posters, a Spanish to English picture dictionary, shelves, a rug for a floor seating area, and tables and chairs that were provided by the school. This is where the children will practice posted objectives, including (1) writing skills with pencil and paper to refine fine motor skills, (2) ability to write his or her own name, and (3) expanding vocabulary.
The teacher’s desk is positioned in the front of the classroom by the door. I have an electrical outlet for the third computer on the right side of my desk. The second wall outlet is located on the wall of the Science Center. I have a power strip to plug in the overhead projector in the Language Arts Center and an extension cord running along the baseboard to reach the computer in the Math Center. I also have purchased three adjustable computer stations, upon which the three computers provided by the school will be placed.
This is my dream kindergarten classroom. I have designed and furnished the classroom with an array of materials in hopes of capturing the students’ imagination and stimulating their young, budding minds.
Cooperative learning develops self-esteem and responsibility. Children acquire a sense of pride and self-confidence when they contribute to project with their peers. Children also learn more about themselves as they interact and exchange feedback. This helps children grow emotionally and feel important. Group work encourages each child to take more initiative because they have a vested interest in completing what they are responsible for. They don’t want to let down the group. This sort of “peer pressure” is beneficial because it helps the children to realize their potential.
There are, of course, a few pitfalls that I need to mention, as well. Some children might enter a group learning assignment without the essential socials skills needed to make co-learning successful. This may be due to their family’s culture or lifestyle habits or multiple intelligence strength. According to Dr. Gardner, there are at least eight intelligences. Children who have a high level of intrapersonal intelligence prefer to work alone and may become frustrated during group work and not learn as well as they could if they worked alone. Grades can be another problem. If one student does most of the work, he may feel resentment toward his group, and the slackers in the group get a grade they didn’t earn. There are also students who are shy or afraid of looking dumb in front of their peers and will mask their fear by not participating. Another problem that could occur is getting off track. One student may mention some juicy gossip, and then the work group becomes a gossip chatting group. Furthermore, students who work too often in groups can become dependent on others and less able to solve problems independently. Fortunately, all of these obstacles can be dealt with, and adjustments can be made to meet everybody’s needs.
THE UNDER-BED NIGHT-NOISE
Roger Vaughan Carr
The noise woke Aldo up. But this time he did not call out. He just lay very still and listened.
The same noise had woken him last night. And the night before. It had given him a fright, and he had called for his father.
Each time Dad had come quickly. But each time the noise had stopped before he got there. It had stopped as soon as Aldo called out.
Dad had stayed with him, listening. But the noise had not come again until the next night.
‘What kind of a noise was it?’ his father had asked.
Aldo could not remember. ‘It just woke me up, so I called, and it stopped,’ he said.
‘If it happens again,’ Dad said, ‘listen to it before you call me. The sound of your call must frighten it away.’
‘Frighten what away?’ Aldo asked. But his father did not know.
Now the noise was here again; so Aldo just kept very still and listened. He was a little bit afraid. But not too much. The lights from the Coke sign on the other side of the street came through the curtain; just as they did every night.
The sound of trains going in and out of the subway came faintly through the night; just as they always did.
He could hear cars on the street; just as he always could.
The only different sound was the noise. Aldo listened very carefully. He wanted to be able to tell his father exactly what kind of a noise it was. It was like a noise from a cartoon. It was like the sound that came when someone used a saw. But it was very soft. And very slow. And it came from under his bed.
‘Help!’ Aldo wanted to shout. ‘The noise is under my bed!’ He opened his mouth. He nearly shouted the words.Then he thought: If I do shout for dad, the noise will stop. It might not come again. I might never know what it is.
Very quietly he rolled over onto his front. He pushed his head over the side of the bed and looked under. It was black and dark under his bed. But he could hear the noise very clearly, now.
It went: sh-sh, sh-sh, sh-sh. It was the kind of noise his mother made when she was putting the new baby to sleep.
Sh-sh, sh-sh, sh-sh.
It was like that. And like the sound of a saw in a cartoon. It was like them both. Aldo wished he had left the curtain back so the Coke light could shine right in. He stared into the blackness under his bed. The noise kept making baby-go-to-sleep and cartoon-saw sounds.
Aldo stared harder into the blackness. He thought he could see a thin line of light. It was at the bottom of the wall. The line of light came up from the floor on one side. Then it began to curve at the top. Like an arch.
Aldo leaned further down. He was so interested in watching that he forgot to be afraid. He was so interested in watching, he forgot to hold on.
He was on the floor!
The line of light stopped moving. Aldo stopped breathing. He held his breath for as long as he could. He did not want the line of light to stop moving.
Sh-sh, sh-sh, sh-sh…
The line began to move again. Aldo began to breathe again. He watched as the line finished the arch and went down to the floor. It was like the outline of a tiny door in the wall.
He tried to remember what was on the other side of the wall. It was a big building he lived it. It was made up of apartments; but Aldo did not really know who lived in the one on that side.
The noise had stopped now the line of light had reached the floor again. Then a bit of the wall fell out. It was the shape of a door with an arch on top. The hole it left was about the size of his open hand.
Aldo tried to look into the arch of light, but he was too far away to see through. He did not want to move, because he thought that might make everything stop.
Then another noise came. It was a scrape-scrape-scrape kind of sound. Something was pushing through the door, but Aldo could not see what. Something was moving across the floor under his bed. Then that stopped, too, and Aldo held his breath again.
Had something seen him? Was the little arched door suddenly going to be closed up again? No! Something else was happening. There was a tiny light coming through the arch. There was a little buzzing noise…
There was a long: tooo-oooo-oooo… sound!
Clang! Clang! Clang! went a very small bell.
The buzzing noise stopped. There was the sound of scrabbling. It was like mice running round.
Then tiny blue lights switched on. Now Aldo could see exactly what was happening. Train tracks had been pushed across the floor, and a train had come out. The train was made up of flat-cars. And each flat-car was loaded with stuff for building.
Little robot people were running around, unloading the flat-cars.
Then they built a rail siding and put down more track.
They built a whole railway town under Aldo’s bed.
Then another train came through. This train pulled carriages and freight-cars and cattle trucks.
Little robot people got out. They got animals from the cattle trucks. They got all kinds of stuff from the freight-cars.
They built a small town. They built small farms.
Trains came in and out of the archway
Aldo just lay there, staring and staring…
Aldo’s father came in on the way to bed. He found Aldo asleep on the floor. He smiled and picked Aldo up and tucked him back into his bed. Then Aldo’s mother came in.
‘Did he hear that noise again, tonight?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Aldo’s father said. ‘I found him asleep on the floor.’
‘Well it could not have given him a fright then,’ she said. ‘He did not call out.’ She leaned over and kissed Aldo goodnight.
Aldo’s father kissed him goodnight, too. “He looks tired,’ he said. ‘Let’s hope the baby does not wake him up tonight with her crying.’
They crept quietly out and closed the door. Aldo did not wake up until the morning traffic started. He rolled onto his back. He watched the flashes of sunlight the car windows always reflected onto his walls in the morning.
I’m glad that noise did not wake me up again last night, he thought.
And then he remembered, and rolled out of bed with a thump and looked
There was nothing there.
‘Oh…no!’ he cried. ‘It was just a stupid dream!’
He was so angry he slid right under the bed and kicked the wall in temper.
He kicked it right where he had dreamed the little arched doorway had been.
And the little arched doorway fell out.
‘Help!’ Aldo cried in surprise.
Then he picked up the little doorway. It had glue around it. But the glue was still wet.
Aldo slid round until he could look into the arched doorway.
An eye and part of a face looked back.
‘Yeeks…!’ Aldo cried.
‘Excuse me,’ a voice said. ‘I hope you don’t mind me using your floor for my train set at night.’
‘Huh?’ Aldo said.
‘There is not a lot of spare room in my apartment,’ the voice said. ‘I had to cut a tunnel through the wall to build my farm town.’
‘I..I…I like you using my floor,’ Aldo said.
‘Oh, good!’ the voice said happily. ‘Can I use it again tonight?’
‘You can use it every night,’ Aldo said. ‘Can I play, too?’
‘Certainly,’ the voice said. ‘I will send a control to you on the first train tonight.’
‘Wow! Thanks!’ Aldo cried.
He put the piece of wall back in place and got dressed.
‘Did you hear that noise again last night?’ his father asked when he sat down for breakfast.
‘Yes,’ Aldo said. ‘It was just someone building a tunnel.’
Aldo’s father looked out the window. ‘They’re always building something,’ he said. ‘Next thing you know they’ll be building a railway right through the middle of the apartments.’
Aldo just smiled and ate his breakfast.
And wished it was night again.
© Roger Vaughan Carr, 2006
Defeated by His Own Fear
A long, long time ago, China was not a big united country. Instead, it was composed of three smaller countries. The three countries were always fighting with each other. Among the three countries, Shu was the weakest but was fortunately headed by a very wise man, Zhuge Liang. In fact, Zhuge Liang was regarded as one of the wisest men in China.
One day, General Sima Yi from the country Wei led hundred thousands of soldiers coming to attack Shu. Master Zhuge knew this would happen sooner or later and had a ready plan to defend his country. He called in General Ma and told him about his plan.
But General Ma was a very arrogant man. He said to himself: “Why should I follow Zhuge’s plan? If I defeat Sima Yi’s army in my own way, everybody will see that I am smarter than Zhuge.” So he led his men to fight in his own way. So he lost, badly. Only a handful of men managed to escape and reported the bad news to Master Zhuge.
Upon this shocking bad news, Master Zhuge only lost his composure for a minute. He had to think out something fast or the whole city and his whole country would be smashed. There were only two thousand soldiers in the city. But Master Zhuge sent them all but twenty to wait in the steep mountains of a valley. People in the city were instructed to stay in their houses and nobody should come out to walk in the streets. Master Zhuge then ordered the twenty soldiers to remove all the war flags and weapons from the city walls and open as widely as possible the gate to the city. He then asked the twenty soldiers to take off their army uniforms and changed into street sweepers’ clothes. While the twenty men were calmly sprinkling water and sweeping the streets, Master Zhuge came to the wall above the gate with his favorite Qin, an ancient Chinese music instrument.
When General Sima’s army came near to the city, he sent his son and a group of soldiers to spy on their enemy. Shortly his son and his men returned. They reported that they didn’t see any sign of the enemy army, only a widely open gate, some street swipers and an old man playing peaceful music on the wall. General Sima then went closer to the city wall with his son. He could recognize the old man. He told his son: “That’s not an ordinary old man. He is Master Zhuge himself!”
His son asked: “Should we ride into the city and seize him?” Looking at the open gate and the calm street sweepers for a moment, General Sima said: “Let’s withdraw!” “But why?” asked his son. General Sima said: “Master Zhuge must have set up a trap in the city for us and he is just using the open gate and himself to entice us to jump into the trap.”
So General Sima’s army turned back and marched away from the city. When they came to the valley, Zhuge Liang’s two thousand soldiers were waiting for them. This sudden attack made General Sima even surer that Zhuge Liang also had a trap in the city.
After General Sima’s army left, Master Zhuge came down from the wall. Somebody asked Master Zhuge why General Sima did not come into the city. Another asked: “Master Zhuge, did you find a secret weapon to defeat the enemy while we were hiding?” To that, Master Zhuge laughed and answered: “ Yes we used a secret weapon. Our secret weapon was our enemy’s own fear.”
There once was a man who revealed to his friend that he was in the fourth grade before he found the key to reading. Before then, he had always struggled with his reading. His friend was curious as to what key he had found. The man told his friend that it was the realization that letters stand for sounds. Once the man made the correlation between letters (graphemes) and their corresponding sounds (phonemes), reading came much easier.
Without this basic understanding, beginning readers will struggle the same way the man had.
Teachers and parents strive to show and tell young children how it works. Children first learn the names of letters that make sounds and words. Often, there is too much emphasis on the order of the letters. The correct order of the alphabet is not important in the early stages of learning to read. And it isn’t important in decoding the written word. It only becomes an important tool later when needed to find or put something in alphabetical order. The alphabet is often shown in order on charts in classrooms as a convenience for children to see each letter, and presents the idea that there is an alphabetical order and that the alphabet is finite.
Practice in hearing sounds (phonemes) and seeing the symbols (graphemes) that represent the sounds are tools to help beginning readers. People who teach reading use as many approaches as possible and endeavor to find what works best with each individual student.
The Reading Friend website has over thirty animated and interactive books that directly address hearing sounds and selecting the correct corresponding letters. The titles can be found in the Main Catalog in the category Introducing Phonemes, Phase 1. There also is a full set of animated phoneme/grapheme flash cards in the Phonemic Flash Cards catalog.
These two words joined the reading-readiness vocabulary in recent times, although phoneme dates back to the late 1800s and grapheme was in print in the 1930s. Using these two words (foh-neem and graf-eem) makes a lot of sense to help define how reading is taught and learned. Of course, these abstract words are not necessary to use when teaching a young child or even an adult. And they are not necessary, but, are very useful terms in organizing a reading program—whether you are organizing it in your head or on paper—whether for one student or a group of students.
Phonemes have to do with hearing sound, and graphemes have to do with seeing symbols. If the terms are unfamiliar, one way to distinguish between them is to think that you hear on a phone, and you see a graphic or symbol.
A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound, in the set of speech sounds, for any language. When beginning to teach young children to read, the first phase is to help develop their ability to hear. Simple games and activities as well as talking about sounds are tools used to develop hearing awareness. This important phase can start at Pre-K level and should be continued, along with subsequent phases, throughout the journey to become an independent and confident reader. Ideally, this goal is reached somewhere around the beginning of third grade. However, no particular grade level should be the objective, as each individual progresses at their own speed—some faster, some slower.
A grapheme is the smallest unit of writing, in the set of letters or symbols, for any language. Letters (graphemes) have corresponding sounds (phonemes). The next phase in reading is introducing the relationship between graphemes and their corresponding phonemes. It is best done systematically with specific sets of letters and by introducing a new set each week. Activities include how to blend and sound out words, and to segment words. Eme, found at the end of phoneme and grapheme is a suffix, added to make a noun.
The third phase advances to the introduction of a more complex grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Subsequence phases gradually go deeper, but, phonemes and graphemes are the basic units.