Thursday, June 2, 2016

Exploring Fondant
May 25, 2016

Now that the children have had time to become familiar with frosting and the different techniques used to decorate cupcakes, I decided to introduce fondant! I noticed that the children seemed to have a good understanding of how to decorate cupcakes with frosting and the different tools used with it (piping bags, tips, frosting knives). I also noticed that they seemed to be interested in using combination of tools, so I decided it was a good time to introduce another decorating ingredient, fondant! I wanted to create a concrete experience with fondant for the children so I contacted “Kiki the Baker” to see if she was available to visit the classroom again. Unfortunately, her schedule was too busy, so I decided to show short videos of bakers using fondant to decorate cupcakes. One video demonstrated how to knead the fondant, how to make it less sticky (by adding corn starch or powdered sugar) and how to flatten and shape it with cutters. The other video demonstrated how to shape fondant into roses by hand. I chose these two videos because they provided examples of how to manipulate and shape fondant using 2 different techniques. I also thought they would be a good visual support for children who have never used or seen fondant being shaped before.
After watching the videos, the children had an opportunity to explore fondant. I decided to provide this opportunity for exploration after they watched the video because I wanted to see if the children would relate their explorations to what they observed. I also wanted to see if they would try techniques the women used to shape the fondant for their cupcakes. I distributed the fondant to the children sitting at the table and as Brandon touched the fondant for the first time he noticed, “It feeled hard!” Kaylee stretched her fondant and shared, “Wow! It looks like gum!” James smelled it and said it was “like frosting”. As the children continued to manipulate the fondant, I noticed that many of the children seemed to follow the same steps in shaping the fondant as the woman in the video. First they kneaded it, then they rolled it with a rolling pin and used the fondant cutters to create different shapes. Others shaped the fondant into roses by rolling it flat, cutting it into strips and using their hands to roll it into a rose. Many of their roses looked similar to the ones the woman created in the video they watched. The children seemed excited to use this new technique and at one point the whole table was covered in roses!

While Lolo was rolling out his fondant it began to stick to his hands and table. I noticed how it was sticking to mine as well and asked the group if they knew what we could use to make it less sticky. The woman in the video demonstrated and explained that powdered sugar or corn starch would make the fondant less sticky, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for children to recall what they observed. Kaylee answered “Sugar!” Me, “Right! We can use powdered sugar or cornstarch and we have cornstarch right here!” The children quickly began noticing if the fondant was sticking to the table or their hands, so we passed around a container of cornstarch and the children sprinkled cornstarch on their fondant and mixed it in. As a result, they were able to manipulate and shape the fondant easier.

I realized the children had a more direct approach in learning about fondant, but I also wanted to provide an open-ended experience for them. So I set up the table with fondant, fondant cutters, rolling pins, cornstarch and knives. My intention for leaving this activity open-ended was for the children to get a deeper understanding of how to use fondant and to use each other as a resource. Initially, the children had difficulty using the fondant because it was too hard. Evelyn “Mine too hard!” I replied “Remember the woman in the video? What did she do to make it softer?” In response, Angelina held up her hands. Reilly commented, “You just have to use hands and it stretch it softer you see?” Evelyn began stretching the fondant and was able to get it soft enough to roll it flat with a rolling pin. In this situation, the children were teachers to one another as they shared their knowledge verbally and visually!

As the children continued to become familiar with the properties of fondant they were able to recall what they noticed the women in the video doing with the fondant to guide their explorations. If they had questions or encountered a challenge with the fondant, I referred them to classmates or asked questions to redirect them to the video they watched. Research states, “The teacher can use several strategies to provide a common background of experience for the young investigators to enrich their discussions and interactions before investigating begins.…They build background knowledge, establish some basic vocabulary, and introduce some concepts about the topic. This provides a critical knowledge base for young investigators to draw on and is most important for the very young child.” (Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years, Second Edition. Judy Harris Helm and Lilian Katz –Pg. 23-24). The videos played for the children acted as the “common experience” and gave the children some basic knowledge about fondant and decorating cupcakes. When I redirected the children to one another and to the video, they were encouraged to support one another and share their ideas.
I will continue to support children in exploring different decorating techniques by encouraging them to design their own cupcakes on paper. Once they’ve designed their cupcakes they will have an opportunity to recreate it using fondant and playdough “frosting”. This will guide their explorations to an even deeper level as they work through challenges and attempt to recreate their cupcake designs.

Documented by Stephanie Vorrises

Baking Cookies
May 18, 2016

The children have been very interested in baking and have spent many days creating their own cupcakes with Teacher Stephanie. They’ve learned to use baking tools safely to create beautiful “cupcakes”. Their interest in baking was supported by Sophia’s mother who volunteered her time to teach the children how to make gluten free cookies!

The children were so excited to have a surprise visit from Sophia’s mother and aunt, who planned on baking cookies with the children. The children were provided with condensed milk, unsalted butter and cornstarch so the children could make their own dough and pre-made dough so the fun could begin! They were also encouraged to use baking sheets, rolling pins and cookie cutters. Authors Deb Curtis and Margie Carter explain:

 “Real tools and high-quality materials allow children to produce more meaningful and beautiful work”.

The children sat at the table and patiently waited for instructions. Two large pieces of parchment paper were placed on the table. A ball of dough was placed on each parchment paper, along with two long rolling pins. Russell immediately picked up the rolling pin, placed it on top of the dough. Using two hands, Russell moved his hands back and forth, allowing the rolling pin to glide under the palms of his hands. Amaris waited for a demonstration from Sophia’s aunt and then began rolling the pin over the dough. The parchment paper began sliding around the table as the dough flattened. Teacher Elda held the parchment paper down as Russell continued to roll the pin. The dough then began sticking to the pin.

Russell: “ Ahhh, I need help”

Teacher Nicole helped remove the dough from the rolling pin and encouraged Russell to continue flattening the dough.

Meanwhile, Sophia and Sergio were the first to volunteer to mix the ingredients to make new dough. The ingredients were placed in a large plastic bowl. Sophia used a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients using two hands. The bowl began to move as she stirred the dough. Sophia held the bowl with her left hand and mixed the ingredients with her right hand. Sergio watched as Sophia mixed the ingredients, occasionally touching the dough and adding cornstarch to the mixture.

Sergio: “This is so sticky”

Once the pre-made dough was flat, the children were excited to use the cookie cutters! Some of the children pushed the cookie cutters very lightly and when trying to remove them from the parchment paper,they would rip.

Paul: “Mine’s not coming out!”
Sophia’s aunt explained they needed to push harder on the cookie cutter. The children had a great time cutting circles, stars, gingerbread men, flowers and bells. They also used baking stamps with happy faces and the word “thanks” to decorate their cookies.

Russell: “Look! Mine has a beard!” Russell had connected two dough shapes - a circle that had a happy face on it and a plain flower by pinching the edges together.

Patrick: “Where is the gingerbread man?” He rummages through the cookie cutters that are available searching for the gingerbread man shaped cookie cutter. “Umm, we need another gingerbread man”.

Paul: “It’s right here!” Paul hands Patrick the gingerbread man

Sophia’s mom explained that after the parchment paper was full of raw cookies, we would need to bake them so they could be eaten. When the cookies were ready for the oven, the children were informed that we would all be going to the kitchen where the oven is located. Teacher Nicole and Teacher Elda explained that the ovens are very hot and that we all needed to stand back while Sophia’s mother placed the raw cookies in the oven. Once in the kitchen the children stood back and watched as Sophia’s mother carefully opened the oven and placed the raw cookies on the rack. We shared that one should always use an oven mitt when handling hot items.

Amanda: “The oven mitts help so we don’t get burned”
Sophia: “Yeah, I use that at home”

The children waited patiently for the cookies to bake and finally were able to taste the delicious cookies they had prepared! Baking activities are not only yummy and fun, but are filled with learning opportunities. In allowing the children to mix the ingredients on their own they are working on math concepts like measurement and volume. They touch on science skills like chemistry to get to the right consistency of dough. The different job stations give the children a chance to work on self-regulation, as they have to wait to have a turn at a different task.

To say the least, the children had a blast!

Curtis, Deb, and Margie Carter. Learning Together with Young Children: A Curriculum Framework for Reflective Teachers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf, 2008. Print.

Documented by: Elda Guerra

                                                     Buildings and Locations
                                  May 2 – May 20, 2016

The block area has been busy with new buildings, towers and bridges popping up left and right. The children had been hard at work creating homes and hideouts for “transformers”. I decided to introduce a handmade book, which was compiled of images of famous buildings around the world. I also included the name of the building and its location. The purpose of adding this item was to help spark new ideas for their structures. It would be a great opportunity for the children to see new architecture/designs. Adding the name of the building and its location to support literacy. 

Flipping through the book, some of the children recognized and visited a few of the buildings. Others would share where their families were from after inquiring about a specific structures location. There were many recreations of buildings in the book and even more new creations, including their own names and location. One morning, Patrick took the book and began flipping through the pages.

Patrick: “Teacher, I know one of the buildings in here”.
Teacher Elda: “You do? Which one?”
Patrick flips the pages of the book and turns to the Eiffel Tower. He points to the page and says: “This one, the Eiffel Tower”.
Teacher Elda: “Do you know where the tower is?”
Patrick: “Umm, France”.
Patrick continues flipping through the book and stops at an image of The Petrona Towers.
Patrick: “That’s kind of hard to build”
Teacher Elda: “That’s the Petrona Towers. What makes it hard to build?”
Patrick: “This” he points to the a triangular bridge connecting the two towers.
Patrick: “I need to look at this all the time”.
Patrick then gathers medium rectangular blocks, places the image of the Petrona Towers next to him and begins his construction of The Petrona Towers. A few minutes later he points to his building and exclaims:
Patrick: “There!”

After observing the children’s interest and conversations about other cities and countries, I thought a globe would provide an opportunity to explore geography and would further their curiosity about other countries. In a chapter focusing on enhancing curriculum with materials, the authors write:

“When children are interested in an idea or concept, providing different materials to extend their exploration help them make further connections and build on their ideas. Not only do they use the materials to represent their current thinking, but they increase their skills and go deeper in exploring new ideas through the multiple activities they bring to the work”.

Many of the children asked to find San Francisco on the globe and shared that it was in California and that they lived in San Francisco. Some children asked to see how far certain countries were from San Francisco after learning of its location in the book. Patrick had been flipping through the pages of famous buildings and admired the St. Basil Cathedral. He’d asked for help locating Russia on the globe after inquiring about St. Basil Cathedral location.

Patrick: “Russia is the biggest country”. He continued to share that his father had explained that to him.

Amid the construction and demolition, the children have had an opportunity to strengthen their conflict negotiation skills. Every encounter helps develop their consideration of their peers wants and needs. Their communication skills are put into practice as they work on finding a compromise and share about their projects and experiences related to their construction. There have been many opportunities for emergent writing skills, as well as, letter and word knowledge as children inquire about the names of buildings and location or ask for the spelling of a word as they create their own signs. For example, Angelina entered the block area and picked up a basket of natural wood blocks. She placed it on the floor and began to select round wood pieces. Angelina placed them flat on the floor and then selected long wood pieces from the basket. She took a long piece of wood and then added the round wood piece on top - creating six things that resembled a mushroom. Angelina then brought a basket of animals to her area and selected two horses. She laid the horses on the “mushrooms” then chose a variety of animals to lay on the remaining “mushrooms”.
Teacher Elda: “What are your animals doing?”
Angelina: “They’re going to watch the show”
Patrick: “What show?”
Angelina: “That”
Patrick: “The show of how they build the building?”
Angelina stood up and walked to the writing area. She grabbed a piece of paper and marker and returned.
Teacher Elda: “What are you going to use that for?”
Angelina: “That’s for this” she held the piece of paper in the air and then pointed to the wood and animals on the floor.
Angelina: “How do you write show?”
Teacher Elda: “Show is spelled: S-H-O-W”
Angelina began writing each letter on her paper, momentarily looking up between each letter.
Angelina: “How do you spell snow?”
Teacher Elda: “Snow is spelled: S-N-O-W”
Angelina continued to write snow on the paper and then placed it on one end of her creation.
Angelina: “It’s, it’s a Frosty the Snowman Show”

The added materials did help spark new creations. For example: Toby’s, “Five More Miles” building that he shared would be located in Angel Island. I was amazed at their creativity and use of the blocks to recreate buildings such as, The Petronas Tower, Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu. The new structures now appear to be put into use. They are no longer just vacant standing structures. Recently the children have been working with dinosaurs and volcanoes. Some create their own Jurassic Park, others add secret doors and hide outs for their dinosaurs. We’ll continue to observe the children and the endless possibilities that are yet to come!

Curtis, Deb, and Margie Carter. Learning Together with Young Children: A Curriculum Framework for Reflective Teachers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf, 2008. Print.

Documented by: Elda Guerra

Sharpies and Watercolor
April 11-26, 2016

         For several weeks the children have been exploring with sharpies and watercolor!  They have made so many beautiful drawings and paintings that can be seen throughout the classroom!  Beginning with the simple idea of using paint on a large piece of paper and their hands, they have developed their skills to be able to add a lot more detail and intention behind what they create using a variety of supplies.  We encourage them to continue this exploration as we transition into new areas they are interested in.

         When beginning with sharpies, the children were told they must be very careful with the markers because they do not wash off like the other markers we use in the classroom. This made the activity not only more intriguing to them, but also trusting that they would be able to use these important materials on their own.  When adding the watercolor over the sharpie lines, the lines look untouched through the color creating a beautiful effect.  At first, some of the children were mixing the sharpie and the watercolor too quickly and the sharpies would no longer work.  Also, experimenting with using watercolor first then sharpie over it proved to be not very effective. They learned to draw first in sharpie then paint over it, or alternate using each one while creating.
         While the children were exploring with these materials and their colors, they were using many creative techniques!
Mairead practiced her “M” shapes.
Mairead: “Look what I did!”
Teacher: “What is it?”
Mairead: “A down up down up down up.” continued “M” across the page in blue sharpie.
She then put blue watercolor over the sharpie.

         Several children would match the sharpie color with watercolors.  It became a great way for children to practice writing as well.  Mairead practiced the letters of her name, then matched the watercolor with her sharpie colors.  Gianna practiced the letters of both her name as well as her brothers'.Gianna wrote: “ENZO” and “GIANNA” then painted watercolor over the names.  She matched the watercolor to the sharpie she used.
         As this process progressed the children began to develop a better sense of what pictures they would like to draw; many focusing on maps, animals, and family members.  Some are still exploring with the materials practicing shapes, lines, and scribbles to see the effect of the watercolor over the sharpies.
                  This activity provides a wide variety of learning for the children, focusing on colors, shapes, fine motor skills, as well as learning how to properly hold a writing utensil.  They are also able to express themselves freely through their art, drawing and painting what they like and sharing it with not only their class, but their families as well.  We have many new paintings on the walls of the classroom from this activity alone, and the children are proud to show what they have made.  The teacher simply offered basic materials, based on the children’s interest and continued to observe what they are learning and wanting to learn more about.  We believe that this activity should be driven by the children’s interest and the teacher help them to expand their thoughts and creativity through open-ended questions and providing more opportunities for them to learn.  An article about teacher involvement expands on the importance of this practice: “The children’s experience on art activities depends on the adults’ guidance on children’s development and learning. The activities should be designed for children to be able to attend, understand and communicate with others during the activity process. Therefore, how and how much a teacher pay attention to art activities play an important role on the attitudes of children towards art.”  We strive to give them optimum opportunity to explore and be creative.
       Going forward we will start to add new materials to paint with or even ideas of what the children would like to paint pictures of! Q-tips are available to the children in the art area, which some children have already started to explore. We will talk to the children about other ideas they have for what they would like to use. They have already shown so much growth throughout the past month in their artwork, we look forward to many new paintings to have up in our classroom!

Yildizbaş, Füsun. "The Study of Preschool Teachers Implementations of Art Activities." Global Journal on Humanities and Social Sciences 1.1 (2015). Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <>.

Documented by Nicole Porter

The Two Tool Challenge
April 26,2016

Now that the children have had time to become familiar with piping tips and bags, they have been demonstrating an interest in incorporating other tools into their work. While at the playdough table, I noticed some children beginning to use a variety of tools ranging from piping bags and tips, to frosting knives, to rolling pins, and fondant cutters. I wanted to support their interests in learning about new tools, but also wanted to see which tool should be our next focus, so I created a “Two Tool Challenge”. I created the challenge because I thought it would be a creative and fun way for the children to demonstrate what tools they were interested in learning more about and hopefully give me an idea of where to start our next focus. 

I introduced the “challenge” to the class during group time so all the children would be familiar with what we were working on at the cupcake table. I explained the “Two Tool Challenge” by encouraging them to use at least two tools to decorate the cupcakes and that they could use any of the tools we had on the shelf. I set up the table with frosting knives, fondant cutters, rolling pins, piping bags and tips so they would have a variety of tools to start with. The group seemed to be really excited about their new challenge and began their creations as soon as they came to the table. Amanda covered her playdough cupcake with the playdough fondant and began printing horizontal and vertical lines. She then used a star tip to print stars into the fondant and shared, “Mine is a star cupcake! I made it with the piping tip like this then it make lines!” Kaylee used her hands to cover the “cupcake” with “frosting” and also used the frosting knife to print lines into the playdough.
I also noticed children using the rolling pin to flatten the “fondant”, then use their hands to shape the fondant into small, medium, and large balls. I wanted to see why they were using their hands after rolling the fondant flat. Was it because they didn’t know what to do next? Did they prefer to use their hands rather than the fondant cutters? I wanted to do some investigating myself, so after watching Amanda and Kaylee use their hands to mold the frosting I said, “Sometimes when I use fondant, I roll it flat like you did. Then I use a fondant cutter.” I then demonstrated how to roll the fondant flat using the rolling pin and used a fondant cutter to cut out a butterfly. Kaylee asked if she could have it and then proceeded to cut out her own butterflies using the cutter and placed them on top of her cupcake. Amanda continued to shape the fondant into a small ball and placed it on top of her cupcake as well.
My intention for the “Two Tool Challenge” was to see what current knowledge the children have on decorating cupcakes and to look for guidance from the children on what will be our next focus. Research states, “Intentional teaching requires wide-ranging knowledge about how children typically develop and learn. Teachers must have a repertoire of instructional strategies and know when to use a given strategy to accommodate the different ways that individual children learn and the specific content they are learning. At some times or for some content, children seem to learn best from child-guided experience—that is, they acquire knowledge and skills through their own exploration and experience, including through interactions with peers. At other times and for other content, children seem to learn best from adult-guided experience—that is, in set-up situations in which their teachers introduce information, model skills, and the like.” ( -Pgs. 1-2)
The responses from Amanda and Kaylee led me to believe that maybe the children are interested in learning more about fondant. They seemed to be interested in decorating their cupcakes by printing, molding it with their hands and using the fondant cutters to create a specific shape. Fondant is used to decorate cupcakes using all three techniques! Over the next couple of weeks, I will provide concrete opportunities for children to observe others using fondant and encourage them to explore decorating cupcakes using real fondant, as well as, a variety of techniques (using cutters, hands, or printing). One concrete experience I will provide is short videos of bakers using different techniques to mold and shape fondant. I will also try to have another visitor come in to demonstrate a technique they use when decorating with fondant.
Documented by Stephanie Vorrises

Building Fine Motor Skills with The Basketball Book
March 11th - April 13th

         Basketball in our classroom continues to be a large area of interest for many of the children in our group! After building a basketball court in our yard, I wanted to expand on the children’s interests by bringing basketball inside our classroom as well. I created “The Basketball Book” in order to build on the children’s knowledge of the Golden State Warriors, and other elements of basketball such as the Players, Coach, Referee, Team, Fans, Stadium, and Court - all aspects of basketball I have heard the children talking about in conversation and play. Building on this knowledge is useful for the children because it is deeply incorporated into their lives outside of school, whether playing the sport on a team with friends, or watching it on TV with their families. Having a better understanding of the sport of basketball gives the children more opportunities to connect with other children in the classroom who enjoy the same things as them. They are able to practice teamwork when they play the sport in our yard, as well as collaborate and share ideas that they know when they are drawing or coming up with ideas as classmates when they draw or build.

The Basketball Book in particular has been a way for the children to strengthen their fine motor skills. According to School Sparks, “Fine motor movements involve the coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers. Strong fine motor skills are essential to complete tasks such as writing, cutting, using a fork or spoon, and threading beads.” The Basketball Book has incorporated these skills, while engaging them in a topic they have been interested in. Asking questions, researching on the computer, and sharing out loud about what they know develops their critical thinking skills while also documenting their knowledge.

         When I brought out the Basketball Book for the first time, Gabriel, Paul, Russell and Madilyn were the first to sit down with me at the table. They helped me cut out photos I had previously printed out from the computer (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, the Warriors coaches, the Oracle Arena, as well as some pictures of a friend of mine who plays for the SFSU Womens basketball team). We matched each photo with the page it fit under as well as added labels, drawings, and any comments about the page. What was really exciting for me was to see children who do not typically choose to write or draw during free time, wanted to work on the basketball book! Gabriel stayed with me the entire free choice time writing “Steph Curry” and “Klay Thompson’s” names, cutting out pictures and carefully gluing them to the page! I was so proud! Paul was really interested in finding out the coaches’ names, “Luke Walton” and “Steve Kerr.” I also had photos of referees in the NBA, a role that the children often take when playing together outside. When working on the basketball book page, Madilyn asked the name of the female referee’s photo I had printed out. We researched on the computer together and found out it was “Lauren Holtzcamp.” She wrote her name on the page and wrote “REFEREE” at the top of the page.

We talked about what we knew about all of these important roles in basketball:

Basketball Players

Gabe - I like their three-pointers and their buzzer beaters.
Paul - I like Klay Thompson, he’s in the Warriors.
Madilyn -  They play every night and they have no moms.
Paul - (about a picture he drew) There’s only one Laker. He’s practicing by himself in the practice zone.


Paul - (pointing at photos) Are they the coaches? They are in charge of the basketball game
Madilyn - They work every time. They help them. They write something on the clipboard.
Paul - They write the rules down on the clipboard.


Madilyn - The whistle stops them to play basketball. And they play. Time out means stop.
Russell - They say, “Time out!”
Madilyn - They have to stop because the coaches tell them what to do.

Documented by Andrea Posadas

Investigating Piping Tips
March 10, 2016
After our exciting visit from “Kiki the Baker”, I noticed a rise in the children’s excitement with decorating cupcakes. I wanted to support their interest in the piping techniques Kiki used and noticed that the regular playdough was too thick for the children to have a realistic frosting experience. I decided to do some experimenting myself and create a new recipe that better resembled frosting by mixing flour, water, corn starch, vegetable oil, cream of tartar, and salt. I used most of the same ingredients used to make playdough, but added cornstarch and more liquids to thin the dough. Once the new recipe was established, the children were able to be more independent and successful when squeezing the playdough through piping tips.
Now that we had more realistic consistency for our play dough “frosting”, I wanted to create an activity that would encourage children to notice the different shape each tip produces and guide them into being more purposeful with their creations, so I decided to prepare a chart with 3 different pictures of cupcakes (each decorated with a star, round, or petal tip). I also wanted to provide an activity with a specific focus so I could observe how much information the children are retaining from past experiences and also to decide where to go next in our project. Before the children came to the table I gave a quick introduction to the whole group about the chart. I told them we were going to do some investigating and going to try to figure out which piping tip was used to decorate the cupcake in the picture. My intention for introducing the chart during group time was to build up the excitement about the chart and participating in an activity that required more attention to detail and group discussions.
As the children came to the table they seemed to be eager to investigate! I brought out the chart, read the question at the top “Which piping tip would you use to decorate a cupcake like this?” and pointed to the top cupcake (decorated with a round tip). James quickly guessed “The circle one!” Kaylee, Evelyn, and Reilly quickly agreed with James. I then introduced a small strip of paper with individual images of 3 different tips (star, round, and petal tips). I gave each child a strip and told them to cut out the tip that they thought was used. My intention for using the small pictures on the chart was to give each child the independence to form a hypothesis and test it out. Reilly, Kaylee, Evelyn, and James all cut out round tips and glued it on the chart next to the cupcake we were “investigating”. Clara cut out a petal tip and glued it on the board.
As the children were cutting out the pictures of piping tips, I noticed the language they were using to label the tips were “this one” or “that one”. I realized we hadn’t talked about the names of the tips so we had a quick discussion to introduce the new names of the tips. I started with the round tip and asked the children what they thought it was called. Evelyn and James guessed “circle”. I passed the tip around the table and told them it was called a round tip. I then brought out a different tip. Evelyn guessed it was a “circle” as well. Kaylee noticed “It’s smooth”. As we passed the tip around, I told the group that it was called a petal tip. The last tip we passed around James guessed was a “star”. Kaylee also noticed “It’s pointy”. They were both right! It was a star tip that was pointy. 
Now that the children were familiar with the names of the tips, it was time for them to further investigate their hypothesis. I revisited what each child guessed and brought out the “frosting”, piping bags, piping tips, and picture of the cupcake we were investigating. I also gave them a direct focus by saying, “Lets try some playdough frosting with the tips and see which one looks like the tip used to make this cupcake.” After I distributed the round tips to the children who hypothesized a round tip was used, James immediately shared “I want the big one!” He then began squeezing the playdough through the large round tip, referred to the picture of the cupcake, and noticed how his larger tip created a bigger shape like the frosting in the picture. James’ discovery caught Evelyn’s attention. She began to look around the table, pointed to Kaylee’s small round tip and said “Kaylee not have it because that one (pointed to small tip) not like that one (pointed to picture of cupcake)”. 
The observations and communications from James created a meaningful child to child teaching opportunity. Evelyn noticed how James specifically wanted the larger round tip and because of his communications at the table, she was also able to notice the size of the tips as well. Originally, I did not plan to focus on the size of the piping tips during this activity because I wasn’t sure if it was going to be as important to them as finding the correct shape, but once again the children surprised me! James and Evelyn focused on the shape the piping tips produced as well as the size!
Research states “Organising activities—working in a goal-directed way—with young children means having an approach that utilises all the standpoints. This means that attitudes, knowledge, interaction and environment are intertwined into a totality. Early childhood education must be organised to allow the greatest possible amount of interaction and communication between children and between children and teachers on a daily basis. They must also have something to communicate about!”( 0313830802497265) During the chart activity, the children were encouraged to participate in a specific goal oriented activity: try to figure out which tip was used to decorate the cupcake. Although there was one clear goal for the children, I had many others in mind as we worked through the activity. I wanted to see if the children would work together or individually. I incorporated pictures to visually support the children to act as a tool to establish meaningful conversations. 
As we continue to move forward with our projects on cupcakes, I will look for new ways to guide the children in exploring new techniques by offering new pictures, such as cupcakes with new decorative aspects (ex. Frosting and fondant) and incorporating familiar tools in the process (ex. Spatulas or fondant cutters). This will support children in paying attention to detail, working through difficulties, and sequencing (what do I need to do first, next, and last).
Documented by Stephanie Vorrises

Visit from “Kiki the Baker”
March 15, 2016
Over the past few weeks, the children have been participating in a variety of meaningful experiences to strengthen their knowledge about decorating cupcakes. Most of these encounters include some of the tools and techniques used during the process of decorating cupcakes. Since most of the children’s cupcake experiences were led by me or other familiar adults, I decided it was a perfect time to bring in a new visiting expert! I have a friend (Kiki) that works for Susie Cakes and thought she would be a good resource for the children as they learn more about the process of decorating cupcakes.
I wanted to prepare the children for our visit with Kiki so during group time I asked the children what they thought Kiki used to decorate the cupcakes. The children were eager to share their questions and quickly started raising their hands. As they shared their curiosities with the class, I was surprised to see how most of the children came up with appropriate and related questions! Here are some of the questions the children came up with:
Toby “Do you use sprinkles?”
Evelyn “Do you use piping bags?”
Patrick “Do you use frosting knives?”
Brandon “Does she use cookie cutters?”
My intention for encouraging the children to come up with their own questions was to support and prepare them for a new and exciting event in the class. I also wanted to help them focus on what we were currently exploring- decorating tools and techniques.

 The day Kiki came to visit we revisited the questions the children came up with to prepare them for an educational group discussion. I also wrote their questions on a large piece of paper so the children could use it as a support if they forgot the question they came up with. When Kiki arrived she introduced herself at group and
talked about the different kinds of cupcakes and cakes she decorates at work. I wanted to encourage children to focus on their current interest of decorating cupcakes, so I referred them to their questions posted at group. Kaylee raised her hand “Do you have spreaders?” Kiki “We do have spatulas to scrape the bowl and metal ones to spread.” Brandon “Do you have frosting knives?” Kiki held up the metal spatulas she brought in “These are frosting knives! They are also called off-sets.” James noticed the differences in the knives “They bend!” Angelina also asked “You have piping bags?” Kiki, “Yes! All day! We use big ones and that’s how we write on the cupcakes.” This group discussion was a great time for children to learn through inquiry from a professional baker!

After our discussion with Kiki, it was time to move to the tables to get a hands-on experience. We had 2 smaller groups so the children could have a more intimate experience. At first the children were distracted by the REAL cupcakes and frosting and it was a little difficult to get them focused. Once Kiki started dying the frosting with food coloring and began showing the children how she uses a frosting knife to spread and smooth the frosting the children were able to focus a little better. She then demonstrated how to fill the piping bag and twisted the top so the frosting wouldn’t come out.
Once the piping bag was ready she demonstrated two techniques for the children. The first technique was a swirling motion. The second technique was using the piping tips to draw letters, happy faces, etc. This was helpful in showing the children 2 common ways to decorate the cupcakes. The children definitely seemed to be more interested in watching Kiki use the piping bag/tips. They had been exploring the use of piping bags and tips before so this was more relevant to them. The piping bags also had more noticeable cause and effect than the frosting knives. I think this is also why they were much more engaged at that point.
After Kiki finished showing the children some of the techniques for decorating cupcakes, it was time for the children to decorate their own cupcakes! My intention for this part of the activity was to see if the children were going to use some of the techniques they had just witnessed. Patrick and Angelina twisted their bags to secure the frosting. Mathias decorated his cupcake by moving and squeezing the piping bag in a circular/swirling motion. Laurent used his piping bag to write the letter “i” on his cupcake.
Although some children were decorating the cupcakes with a specific intention and exploring the use of real frosting, I underestimated how excited the children were going to be when they had an opportunity to use real cupcakes and frosting! Many children ended up quickly squeezing the frosting through the piping bags (don’t worry, we gave them a small amount of frosting) and were more interested in eating the cupcake. This part of the activity was certainly a learning point for me! I don’t think the children were quite ready to use the real frosting on real cupcakes. The real cupcakes were much too tempting and distracting at this stage of our project! I decided to ask Kiki how she learned to frost cupcakes in culinary school. She said they practiced frosting techniques on laminated pictures of cupcakes. I’m definitely going to consider using laminated pictures next time we use real frosting!
Kiki’s visit was a great learning experience for both the children and myself! Research states, “The teacher arranges visits outside the school or invites visitors with relevant expertise to talk to the children or demonstrate special expertise. This visit is carefully planned so that the children, even at the preschool level, are clear about what they are to find out during fieldwork and the visiting experts. This shared event provides a common background of experience on which to negotiate new understandings. Visits also increase the likelihood that the children will ask for clarification of their perceptions of what they have experienced together.” (Pg.71 Engaging Childen’s Minds: The Project Approach Second Edition, Lilian G. Katz & Sylvia C. Chard) The children were prepared for the visit with Kiki by having discussions about what they think she uses to decorate cupcakes and generating questions to ask her. They all were able to observe her decorate the cupcakes using different techniques and some children even tried them out on their own.
We will continue to explore new and familiar decorating techniques and tools as we go deeper in our project. One way we will support the children in developing their knowledge is by planning more visits with Kiki or other experts to provide more meaningful experiences. These visits will encourage children to ask more questions about decorating cupcakes and assist children in becoming more familiar with the process.
Documented by Stephanie Vorrises

Blocks and Measurement
March 7 – 19, 2016

      During free play the children have continued creating elaborate structures in the block area. Their designs vary in size and shape, as well as, use. Some creations fly and travel through space; others house people, animals or cars.

I observed James placing a large cylinder block on top of a piece of paper I was using for children’s observations. I encouraged James to grab a few sheets of paper from the writing area for his personal use. He stood and walked over to the writing area and picked up a few sheets of white paper and a blue marker. When he returned to the block area, James placed the paper on the floor and placed the large cylinder on top of the paper. He then selected a small cylinder and stood it next to the large. James picked up the blue marker and began outlining the blocks on his paper, first the small cylinder then the large:

James: “This is three (3) and this is ten (10)”.
Teacher Elda: “What do the three (3) and ten (10) mean?”
James: “Big”

       James continued writing numbers on the piece of paper with the cylinders – five (5), three (3) and seven (7). He then turns around and picks up a large rectangular block from the shelves and places the block on top of a second piece of white paper. He pauses and observes his paper for a few seconds then walks to the writing area and chooses an orange sheet of construction paper (the orange construction paper is larger in size than the white). James returns to the rectangular block, lifts it and places the orange construction paper under the block. “This one is bigger”, he says and begins outlining the block. James once again, lifts the block with one hand and slides a sheet of white paper under and lines it up with the orange and finishes tracing the block.

After observing James and the focus on the dimension of the blocks, I decided to introduce two measuring tapes, paper and markers to the block area. The purpose of adding the measuring tape was to encourage the children to accurately measure the blocks by manipulating the measuring tape and noting its units of measurement. The tape will help support math concepts such as number sense and measurement. It will provide an opportunity to expand on math language and comparing the size of the blocks, for example: shorter, longer, bigger, smaller, wide and narrow. In the article Block Play = Learning Math Concepts, it says,

“Sequencing, classifying, patterning, counting and working with height, width and area all happen during block play.”

The measuring tape also provides an opportunity for social emotional development, as the children would need to take turns using the measuring tape or as a team. The paper and markers were intended to support their creativity in preplanning their design and as an opportunity to practice their writing skills during documentation.

The added materials were placed on the table available in the block area. Toby and Mathias immediately picked up a measuring tape. Mathias knelt in front of the shelves and began pulling out several blocks. Toby was standing next to a masking tape bridge that the children had made the week before.

Toby: “Can you help me?”
Teacher Elda: “What can I help you with?”
Toby: “Can you hold this?”

       Toby extended the measuring tape and pointed to one end of the masking tape bridge. He had been trying to lay the measuring tape on top. Once I was holding the measuring tape, he pulled the other end of the tape and stretched it out.

Toby: “This is more than 60 inches”
Teacher Elda: “How do we find out how long it actually is?”
Toby: “We need another measuring tape”

Toby turns around and reaches for the second measuring tape that was sitting next to Mathias.
Mathias: “No! I using it”
Teacher Elda: “What else can we use?”
Toby: “We can make our own measuring tape and measure it”
Teacher Elda: “What do you need to make a measuring tape?”
Toby: “We need paper”

       Toby picks up a piece of paper and marker and then walks to the writing area and picks up a pair of scissors. He begins cutting two strips of paper. Toby then picks up the marker and strip of paper placing it on top of the measuring tape he had been using. He draws four lines that match the inches on the measuring tape.

Toby: “The measuring tape has a total of 64 inches”
Teacher Elda: “How many inches is the entire bridge?”
Toby continues drawing lines on the paper and picks up the second strip of paper, tapes the strips together. After completing his measuring tape, he concludes that the bridge is 139 inches long.

Having provided the children with measuring tapes, paper and markers, the children not only practiced measuring objects available in the block area and documenting their findings. The added materials offered opportunities for the children to give an estimate of the size of structures and objects in the block area. We will continue to explore the measuring tapes and will add rulers to the block area to note if there is a difference in the way the children use the blocks, construct and explore measurement. 
Willard, Tricia. "Block Play = Learning Math Concepts - Family." Greater Fort Wayne Family. 1 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2016
Documented by: Elda Guerra

 Utopia Painting Gallery
March 1-24, 2016

         The Utopia classroom is full of beautiful paintings by our class, now transforming into our own art gallery!  To begin the painting process we first experimented with paint, providing simply paint, paintbrushes and a large sheet of paper for everyone to use together.  Four primary colors were available for them to use.  Several of the children experimented with painting onto their hands then transferring it to the paper.  They then would move the paint around as well as mix colors.  This sensory experience gives a new meaning to using paint and understanding how it can be used as well as how it can transform into new colors and eventually pictures!
Since the children were still becoming familiar with paint in general, we offered large sheets of paper to give a more open and free space for them to use.  After a couple weeks of exploring with finger painting and large paper, they started to use smaller paper, still collaborating and using large brushes to manipulate the paint. Still exciting and new was the idea of mixing colors to create new ones, which was a large topic of conversation amongst the group.
Gia: “I’m mixing colors!”
Caira: “What color is this teacher?”
Teacher: “What color is it?”
Caira: “Red!”
Teacher: “It does look red!”
Caira: “It cause I mix colors!”
Teacher: “What colors?”
Caira: “Yellow and purple!”

         The children were excited to talk about what they had made and with more conversation, they started to recognize that their picture may need more details, and think about what else they could include.  Smaller brushes were then presented at the tables as well as framed paper. The framed paper gave a new look to their formats and provided them with a more professional look to a painting. Also set out was an assortment of colors that they had not gotten to use yet, as well as thinner brushes.  Our intention was to encourage them to exercise their fine motor skills, enhance their color recognition as well as discovering new colors by mixing, and creating more detail in their paintings on a new format.  These new additions made the painting table an exciting activity that everyone wanted to try!

         We saw a lot of focus as they each completed their paintings. The teacher asked each child what they would like to title their painting as well.  Once complete, they would title their art and place them on the dry rack in the classroom.  We now have a beautiful assortment of paintings up in the hallway as well as the walls of the classroom!  Each art piece has the title as well as the artist’s name for friends and family to read.  Our intention is to show that their work is highly valued.  We want them to see that their hard work is now presented in a way that others can acknowledge and appreciate.  The direction we see this painting project going could possibly be exploring art galleries and forms of art.  We would love for the children to experiment with new methods of creating their art!  We have since developed into using colored pencils on the framed paper, which has already shown immense progress in their attention to detail as well as depth of the story behind their drawing.

Sophia: “This is the grandma and this is the grandpa. The mommy and daddy, and these are the three kids, all in the cozy bed.”
Gianna: “Apple is walking on the grass and eating the grass.”
Gia: “Teacher I’m done. It’s one crazy whale.”
Sophia: “I’m making a little playground.”
Teacher: “What’s the green part?”
Sophia: “That’s the castle, and these are the monkey bars.”

         This type of activity is extremely important for children at this age to begin to explore not just with colors and fine motor skills, but to explore their feelings and ways to express themselves.  Often children will draw pictures of people they are close to such as their family and friends, or even people they may be missing such as family they don’t see often. An article talks about the importance of this exploration after much research on the subject; “The fact that during the preschool years children work largely in abstract patterns rather than through recognizable representations, tends to heighten one’s recognition of the self-expressive quality and the subjective interpretive value of paintings during the preschool years. Rorschach and others, particularly Harms, have clearly demonstrated that abstract expression brings us closer to an emotional or feeling level than does representative work.”  We can clearly recognize that during this activity the children are calm, focused, and expressive about what they are feeling, thinking, and will have conversations with both teachers and their friends.     
Our next step in this project would be to explore the idea of an art gallery, by using books, having experts come in and talk about galleries and museums, as well as possibly visiting a gallery.  We hope to begin work with clay, creating 3-D art which can be on display as well.  We also can explore with materials we can find in our classroom such as sharpies, watercolor, painting with new techniques such as Q-tips, and even photography!  This is such an exciting process to be a part of, and the energy and passion of the children while they are engaged in the activity is growing as we go.  Come explore our Utopia Art Gallery and view all the beautiful works of art!

Easel painting as an index of personality in preschool children.
Alschuler, Rose H.; Hattwick, LaBerta A.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol 13(4), Oct 1943, 616-625.
Documented by Nicole Porter

Decorating Cupcakes
February 17, 2016

Now that the children have had some time to explore with playdough and cookbooks, they have been showing a strong interest in the art of decorating cupcakes! I noticed a lot of children recognizing the decorative aspects on the cupcakes in the cookbooks, so I decided to offer a variety of real tools used for decorating.The tools the children have been using to explore decorating techniques include spatulas, forks, toothpicks, piping bags and tips, icing knives, and cookie cutters. I decided to start with these items because they are more commonly used in the kitchen and thought they would create opportunities for the children to explore different decorating techniques. Some children have been using pictures to inspire their work, whereas others have been exploring with the tools provided.  I thought that if I could provide a range of tools, the children would have opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of how and why each tool is used in designing cupcakes.
One of the tools I intentionally introduced without playdough was the piping bags. I wanted to know if the children had any prior experiences with them, so I decided to begin the activity with a question. I passed the bags and tips around and asked the group what they thought the pieces were used for. Kaylee guessed that the bag was a “squeezer”. Alayna shared “It’s a frosting top so you can put on frosting.” When I asked what they thought the tips were for Angelina guessed “for playdough!” Clara suggested “For cookies!” Evelyn shared “For cake frosting on cake!” I was surprised that many children seemed to have some kind of prior experience with the piping bags and tips and were able to relate it to baking!
After our discussion, I brought out the playdough along with the other utensils and tools. I now knew that some children had seen the piping bags and tips before and was interested to see if they would know how to use them. I demonstrated how to put the tip into the bags and after watching me, some children were able to do so on their own. I noticed that the most challenging part of the activity was for the children to put the playdough in the bag and to squeeze it through. After seeing how difficult it was to squeeze the playdough through the tiny hole on the piping tips, I thought the children weren’t going to be interested anymore and be more inclined to use the other materials. Once again the children surprised me and took on the challenge of squeezing the playdough through the tips! Kaylee flipped the bag upside down with the tip facing upward. She then used the table as a pressure point to squeeze the playdough through. Toby began twisting the bag to create a different kind of pressure point and continued to squeeze the playdough through. Angelina decided to take the tip out of the piping bag and used her thumb to push the playdough through. Although this activity definitely created a challenge for the children, they worked through their difficulties and came up with individualized solutions.
As the children have had more time to explore the piping bags and tips, they have become more intentional with their decorations. Some children have been filling up the cupcake liners with playdough and then using the piping bags to add “frosting”. Others have been filling up the cupcake liners by only using the piping bags and tips. This is a much longer process, but also allows the child to become more familiar with the tool. Recently, they have been venturing out from using the bags and choosing to only use the tips to print into the playdough. The children have noticed that each of the tips looks different on the end. Printing with the tips could be another way of exploring the different shape each tip creates. 
As the children have time to really investigate the tools and experiment all the different uses, they are developing a wide range of skills. They are remaining engaged and focused for an extended amount of time. They are encouraged to work through their challenges and try new techniques to achieve their goals (ex. how to get the playdough through the piping tips). As they attempt to recreate the cupcakes from the cookbooks or create a cupcake with their own unique design, the children are paying attention to detail and recalling learned techniques. All these skills are important in establishing a strong foundation for school readiness. The playdough along with the real baking materials, cookbooks, discussions, explorations, and investigations is a form of pedagogy. Research states, “Pedagogy is often referred to as the practice (or the art, the science or the craft) of teaching but in the early years any adequate conception of educative practice must be wide enough to include the provision of learning environments for play and exploration. The term ‘teaching’ may therefore be unhelpful in this context, but effective early childhood pedagogy must still be ‘instructive’. Instruction may therefore be defined to incorporate all of those processes that occur within the classroom that aim to initiate or maintain learning processes and/or to be effective means to achieve educational goals (Creemers, 1994). In these terms it is clear that every effective form of pedagogy must be instructive in some way.” (Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years, Department of Educational Studies University of Oxford, Research Report RR356 pg. 27) The baking tools and materials I provide at the playdough table serve as a guide for the children to explore, observe, and develop conclusions. Throughout their interactions, I encourage them by noticing their actions and asking questions to deepen their learning. These examples are all a form of pedagogy.
We will continue to use piping bags and tips to support the children in becoming more familiar with tools used for decorating. I will continue to support and guide them overtime so they can become more confident in their explorations and expand on their work (ex. adding multiple steps to their work by adding more tools, revisit experiences through discussions, etc.). We will also have special visitors to enhance their experiences and continue to familiarize the children with a variety of decorating tools.
Documented by Stephanie Vorrises

Building Bridges
February 1-16, 2016

         Transitioning from building homes, cafes, hotels, trains, rocket ships, and more, the children have now shifted their interest toward navigating and drawing roads in the block area using masking tape! It all began as Patrick started to place the masking tape down on the carpet and drove small toy cars in between the lines.  Other children started to join adding road signs and even drawing and writing on the masking tape. They had become very familiar with masking tape as they had used it nearly everyday during the City Project and know it is available to them if they want to use it. Patrick was able to go and get the tape as soon as he had the idea for these roads after becoming familiar with this process!
                                                    Patrick: “The tape can be the sidewalks!”

         As more and more roads were added, more children came into the block area and began to add their own features.  Roman added tunnels he made out of blocks stacked above and over the tape roads, as well as ramp-shaped block pieces placed back-to-back which he called “speed bumps”.  Roman also placed his “Police Station” building, he had worked on a couple weeks before, into a spot among the roads.  “Houses” made out of blocks with triangles on top were placed along the sides of roads.  Toby wrote the word “STOP” on a piece of tape he placed across some roads as “stop signs”. The children would use the road signs as well as the toy cars in their play.  Conversations started about the different types of cars that we have in our classroom.
Patrick: “Teacher is this an anambulance?”
Teacher: “What is an ambulance?”
Patrick: “A ambulance is a kind of truck that can get to the hospital fast.”
Teacher: “Why don’t we just use a car? Why an ambulance?”
Patrick: “Cars don’t have enough room to fit a hurt person. Ambulance gets them to the hospital very fast.”
Teacher: “Mathias what kind of car do you have?”
Mathias: “Street.” (street sweeper)
Teacher: “What does it do?”
Mathias: “Cleans street!”
Patrick: “They very loud. Sometimes I see it out my window.”

         Making these roads required teamwork. Usually it took about three children to make a single road.  For example, Patrick would hold down the road while Brandon would pull the roll of tape and Toby would cut the tape where they wanted it to end. As they became more familiar with how to do it, they could start to place some roads on their own alternating which hand would hold down the tape and which would pull and cut. This coordination was exciting to see learning and developing amongst the group! I believe these skills stemmed from all the work they did in the City Project as they manipulated the scotch and masking tape to create their buildings.  Watching this process I can recognize where they are connecting past events with what they are doing now. They also would decide when a road should end or turn. They also discussed when they would add a new feature and what else that might need.
Mathias draws lines on the tape: “It train tracks.”
Patrick: “Teacher sometimes when there’s railroad tracks and the train is coming there’s a gate and it goes up and down.”

         Since we were running out of space on the carpet in the block area for roads, we started to think about where else we could make them and how it could stay in the block area.  I suggested that we expand outside of the block area for the roads to continue, but the children wanted them to remain inside the block area. Toby suggested we build bridges! This was a great solution to what they wanted as a group and would be something new for everyone to try and learn about! He went to work making a bridge by placing masking tape on the top of a higher shelf and pulling it all the way across the block area to a lower table to connect it.  This brought a lot of excitement into playing with the tape! Mathias came over to help and they began to play with the “bridge” they had made!  They quickly realized that it was too thin and the cars were not staying on it unless they were sticking underneath the bridge. 
Patrick: “Teacher this is not too steady!”
Teacher: “How can we make it more steady?”
Patrick: “More tape!”

         They began to layer the tape side-by-side all the way across the block area and even began to add blocks underneath to stabilize the bridge!  Building took a lot of teamwork and sharing ideas.  As some blocks would fall and tape would rip, the children talked about what they could do to fix it and even made new details such as a “Car Saver” in case the cars were to fall off the bridge.  James came up with this idea and even made a sign so that his friends would know what it was and who made it!  Toby also decided to make one and write his own sign.  The “car saver” was blocks underneath the bridge that would catch the cars that fell.  It consisted of the larger blocks that we have lying flat with ramps on all sides. This was a thoughtful way to solve the problem of cars falling off of the bridge, they still would be able to land on something they could roll on.  Watching them step back and watch the car savers catch the cars, and even some would fall down the ramps on the side, would show James and Toby how what they made really worked!

         With the bridge becoming more stable and larger with support underneath, the cars they were rolling on the bridge began to roll further and further along, reaching closer to the other end!  This encouraged the children to keep building and trying to make their bridge even more successful.  They had to problem solve in order to get the results they were looking for, and had the added challenge of working all together on the same bridge at the same time.  As they each add blocks underneath the bridge they occasionally test if the car can roll down the bridge and see how far it goes.

Roman: “Ahhhh! The car rolled down! Ahh it crashed!”
Toby: “But it landed on the car saver.”
Teacher Stephanie: “Wow! This reminds me of a freeway.”
Toby: “It reminds me of 280 and 101!”

         Our intention is to support this exploration and give them the freedom to learn about how materials, such as masking tape, work and how they can be manipulated to create what they want such as bridges!  They are able to play together, sharing and listening to different ideas and putting them together to create something they can all use.  In particular, their ability to accept when it doesn’t turn out how they want it to, has been exceptional and gives great attention to how well they are learning to be patient as well as persistent.  We can already see so much learning happening as they are engaging in this play and each day adding more intentional details and building off of ideas they learned or saw the day before.  In the book, “Playing Their Way Into Literacies”, it talks about how play and literacy are more connected than we may realize and we must allow children to play in order for them to develop the most basic and important skills in more diverse and meaningful ways. The book states, “Children learn to read, write and design by collaborating with others who help them to interpret and represent meanings in a specific cultural context.”  I feel this strongly relates to what the children are doing now in the block area as they are mixed age groups learning together and teacher each other constantly.  The book also states, “Through engagement in play as a social practice, children transform the multimodal texts that they create and analyze and simultaneously transfigure their relational identities with peers in the social spaces of schooling.”  We feel strongly about play as a meaningful and vital way of learning and growing, especially at these ages.  Moments like these really show how effective and exciting it can be for everyone.

         Going forward the children can continue to use the masking tape to build and play, adding in more materials such as the blocks, even some of the materials they were building with to enhance their bridge and make it more successful when rolling their cars.  I look forward to seeing them problem solve and come up with new ways to build and keep the cars on the bridge. I continue to pose the question to them “How can we keep the cars on the bridge?” and they have tried several strategies and are continuing to test new ideas. They are still in the exploring phase of their play and creating strong bridges.  We look forward to more excitement and teamwork in the block area!

Wohlwend, Karen E. Playing Their Way into Literacies: Reading, Writing, and Belonging in the Early Childhood Classroom. New York: Teachers College, 2011. Web.
Documented by Nicole Porter

  Basketball in the Utopia Yard!
February 1st - February 15th

         With the NBA champions as the hometown team, it’s no wonder that our yard and classroom have been a buzz with all things Golden State Warriors and basketball! At the end of January, I noticed a couple of children shooting around with the two hoops we keep in our yard. I watched as Gabe and Russell, both wearing Steph Curry jerseys, were consistently shooting the ball into the hoop, yelling “Pass, pass!” and moving their arms and legs from side to side. Although I’ve never played a second of basketball in my life, it brought me so much joy to watch the two boys play with such excitement and persistence. I noticed each day, Gabe and Russell would play together in our Utopia Yard. Because of their enthusiasm, I also noticed that many of the other children were drawn to their game, and often would try to join in. However with our yard having limited space, children riding bikes would often get in the way of their basketball game. I mentioned creating a boundary to keep them “safe” from the bikes, and immediately Gabriel, Russell, and Paul had ideas to create a court.

We first used chalk to block off a small corner of the yard. I helped draw long lines stretching from one side of the yard to the other, creating a rectangle for their court. When observing the boundaries they created, Gabe suggested we draw a “half court line” and a “three point line” to our court. He drew two short and curvy lines in two spots. Mason and Gabe placed the hoops on both sides. Paul and Jackson wrote on the ground, “NO BIKES ALLOWED” next to the boundary they had created. Paul was able to write the letters one by one with teacher support. While doing this, Jackson wrote symbols and lines to represent the words on the other side of the court. He brought me over to show me what he wrote, “Teacher, it say ‘NO BIKES ALLOWED!”
Paul noticed that the bikes still were getting in the way, and that there were no places for the players to sit. I asked them, “What else could we use to keep our court safe from the bikes?” Paul and Gabe suggested to take out some materials from the shed, as well as use the benches and chairs for the audience! I watched as the children worked together to create a basketball court! Two children at a time would carry the long benches from one side of the yard to the other, while others would bring materials from the shed and place them on the court. Since then, the children have been setting up their basketball court everyday! The cones and buckets as “boundaries,” benches, chairs and beanbags as seats for “the people watching” and the players, as well as a water container and cups “for when the players get thirsty,” according to Paul. 

After building the court together each day, I listened to the children’s conversations as they proceeded to make teams with each other and begin playing:

Gabe - We’re the Warriors and you’re the Grizzlies! This how you make a ‘alley-oop!’ (Gabe does a complicated move and shoots the ball)

Paul -  I’m the coach, I’m the coach. I tell the players to take a break.
Everybody stop playing! Go take a water break!

Russell -  Pass, Pass it to me! Over here! Foul! He fouled me! I get a free throw!

Gabe - When someone gets tired, there can be a sub.
Teacher Andrea - What’s a sub?
Gabe - It’s someone who plays for them.

Jackson - My turn, my turn! Pass to me!! I want the ball!

Mason - We’re all wearing blue shirts… so we are on the same team.

Paul - I’m the coach so I say when to do a time out.

Ellie - (using chalk to write symbols on the ground) Teacher, this says ‘No Bikes Allowed.’

Playing basketball and building the court together each day promotes teamwork, problem solving, sharing space, and gross motor development. It allows many children to be involved, even if they don’t want to play. Sergio and Mairead have often sat on the “stands” and cheered on their friends as they watched. It also challenges the children who have more experience with the sport to teach other children the rules, as well as the skills needed to play (following instructions, listening to your friends, sharing the ball). I noticed that the children were having trouble choosing their teams (most of them wanted to be on the same team), and some children were getting left out. Because of exclusion, some teams being bigger than others, and some pushing and shoving, I asked the children if we should make up some rules to hang up by our basketball court. One by one each child added a rule they thought was important as I wrote it down, and after we taped it to the wall. The rules have been useful to refer back to when the children play, but I would also like to encourage some of the older children to think about how they can better include other children when playing together.

In the future, I would like to invite parents who are interested in helping teach the rules of basketball. Although I am a big fan, I am not well-versed in all the rules of playing the game. I would also like to work with the children to identify the different roles that basketball has: the coach, the referee, the players, the mascot, the audience, etc. I noticed that the children have mentioned all of these different roles while playing basketball, but are still not clear on what each one does.

Playing organized basketball is a form of Cooperative Play, an advanced stage of Mildred Parten’s theory Stages of Play. “Cooperative play occurs when two or more children are engaged in a play activity that has a common goal, one that can be realized only if all participants carry out their individual assigned roles (Hughes, 1991).” As we continue our basketball exploration, it will be important to support the children’s understanding of their different roles, show examples of teamwork, as well as the rules incorporated when playing the game.
The Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry have become household names for many of the children and their families, not only in our classroom but around the world! NBA players and other professional athletes are portrayed as superstars, or sometimes even characters, with bright colors, epic music, and fantasized notions of what masculinity and stardom are like. They are seen not only during broadcasted games, but on TV commercials, clothing, video games, household items -- almost every where! It has been interesting to see so many of the children engaged in playing basketball, the building of the court, and hearing what they know about it. I can imagine the children in our class watching as family members and friends put on their favorite team’s jersey, surround the TV and watch together.

Gabriel often asks me at school:
Teacher, did you watch the Warrior game last night?”

Even if I’ve seen the game or not, I’m able to connect with Gabe about an experience we both share and enjoy, something that isn’t happening at school. These small interactions with each other have maintained the close relationship I have with him, and other children, as teacher and student. I can imagine the children, their friends, and their families are doing this with each other as well: feeling connected and proud about something that they have both experienced when they watch basketball. I believe this connection drives the interest of basketball at Utopia with the children, and it will be interesting to see how we can expand on it as the school year goes on.

Hughes, F. P. (1991). Children, play, and development (4th ed.). Boston: Ally and Bacon.
Documented by Andrea Posadas