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Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

  • 1.  Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-11-2020 12:45 AM
    I have taught and been in the ECE field for over 5 years. I am used to a play-based, project-based approach with lots of creativity and a range of interests and questions to explore that came from the children. I recently started teaching at a new place with 6 children, 2-5 years in age. What surprises me most though, is how difficult it has been to get them engaged and creative.

    While they will occasionally sing songs like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" it tends to be only as a "solo," and they get upset if anyone else joins in. Even when given lots of encouragement, they get extremely frustrated (tantrums on floor) when they struggle a bit with something instead of learning and working on trying. I have been working with them to adopt and model the motto is "it doesn't matter if it's right, only if we try," but it's hard to get it through. They ask simple questions, but then lose interest, so it is hard to create a project or provocation around them. And circle times are something else.

    By two months in in previous pre-school classrooms, we are comparing books, writing our own stories, using boxes to build three-level forts with Christmas lights, and creating extensive treasure maps. But all of that seems completely beyond them, and I am currently stumped on things to do to help get them to higher levels of thought processing. Most of the time they say they can't think of anything for a story. When it comes to drawing, they seem afraid to draw without a coloring sheet or a teacher drawing on their paper (and I am vehemently opposed to teachers drawing for children).

    I am all about using the word "yet." They aren't there "yet, but they will be, and that's ok. It's all in their time. I still want to find ways to engage them. They are fairly bright in the academic sense, and I get the feeling that the academic has been drilled in. But I would love to help them build up the creativity, resilience, and cognitive processing skills as well. At the same time, as they aren't engaged, on rough days they are trying to climb the walls and all ideas on engagement are met with resistance, even when it is their choice of activity. Any suggestions?

    Cassandra Johnson


  • 2.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 07:30 AM
    These poor children! Based on what you shared, it seems as though they are afraid to take risks. Maybe you could focus on building/improving the class culture with a focus on community? When children feel secure, they are more likely to take a risk.
    On another note, it may be that they are used to craft projects where the teacher shows them the "sample" and guides them to making it. This can terribly stifle creativity and lead students to not be able to think for themselves. Some ideas:
    1. Squiggle coloring---model drawing a loopy-styled scribble with a pencil. Next, take your favorite colors and demonstrate coloring in the spaces randomly. There is no right or wrong way to complete this task and all students will have a different but similar experience. It is great for experimentation.
    2. Themed experience centers---have you seen what some teachers are doing to block centers? By adding some seasonal themed items, the play can go into a different direction. (Think about adding vegetables and fruits and the blocks can become a farmer's market; add cars and trucks and the blocks can become racetracks; for an art challenge, put out brown paper bags and assorted decorations and let them decide what it will become, etc.)

    Finally, I can offer the following books that may help you:
    Creativity and Early Years Education: A Lifewide Foundation (Anna Craft)
    Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom 2nd ed. (Ronald Beghetto & James Kaufman ed.)
    Also, NAEYC published "This is Play: Environments and Interactions that Engage Infants & Toddlers" ---Going to a resource for younger students may help with your 2-5 yo.

    Tara Guido
    Kindergarten Teacher
    STEM Coordinator PreK-2
    St. Benedict School
    Holmdel, NJ

  • 3.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 10:33 AM
    Hi, Cassandra,
    I can definitely understand the concern! And I love the ideas that have already been shared, but want to add another perspective.

    It really stood out to me how there doesn't seem to be a sense of "group-ness" about this group of children, from what you shared. If they are not relating to each other enough to form a class-sized culture, it's going to be so challenging to move forward. So my suggestion is that you focus on their social and emotional skills for now, encouraging positive interactions and acting as a model and go-between when those interactions present problems. As they come together, their enthusiasm for each other will carry them forward to be enthusiastic about doing projects together.

    I am here for you if you'd like to brainstorm ways to take that approach, just reply directly to me - and I wish you the very best of luck with this teaching challenge.

    Have a great day and stay safe,

    Hazel Osborn
    Loveland CO

  • 4.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 10:45 AM
    Hello! I taught Jr.K for 17 years, then Was assigned as a Paraprofessional for grades K-6th for another 17 years. I understand the trouble you're having. Apparently, you've got some kids in your group who have never had to relate to peers in a socially acceptable manner , nor have they been taught any coping skills from home. They've learned from home that when they throw Tantrums they get whatever it is they want, including adults or older siblings to complete their tasks. I've come across a few situations like this with students of every age, academic level, and background. Try some of these activities. Build A Story Game. The group sits in a circle. Pretend you can't think of a story. The child to your immediate right gets to start the story with one phrase , "Once upon a time/ then you go in order and each child gets the chance to add on to the story as you write it on the Giant Pad or Smart Board for all to see( write their initials one each line they themselves add). At the end, you read the whole story back to the class and everyone earns a sticker. Next game, SHOW ME A MOTION- ( like the game Ponchianella). Each child gets the chance to be in charge and the others ( and you) copy the motion. The game is finished when the last child gets their turn. Art time- The suggestion by Ms..Guido is excellent. Another is to allow the entire class to have TANTRUM Session. They each get to tear up left over remnants of construction paper into tiny bits. Then give them each a sheet of Tagboard or small poster board with glue smuggled all over the sheet. Then each uses two handfuls of the ripped paper to "create" a Mad Art Masterpiece. Then each child gets the chance to show & tell the group about their design. Try these two experiments and let me know if they worked for you like they always have for me. Good Luck.

    JoAnne Saunders

  • 5.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 11:36 AM
    Hello Cassandra,
    It seems as if your expectations are out of line with where the children are. Do you have a chance to sit and observe what they can do? I think any circle time more than three minutes is unnecessary for a child of this age. Try to make it active and fun but in Montessori we try to follow the child and lead them gradually to the materials. Writing stories seem more appropriate for 4 year olds and older. Could art be about exploring materials? You may find a child development class useful.
    Susan Smith
    Heart and Hands Montessori
    Center for Infants and Toddlers

    office: 303-444-0181
    cell:    720-217-2359

  • 6.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 12:53 PM
    Ages from 2 - 5 years old? Whether you have six children or 16 children of different ages, you have a class of children at different developmental stages of learning. You've gotten some great suggestions already but I would certainly focus more on the social and emotional development. Probably some or all of your children have not developed the skills needed at their specific age of development and they just need more experiences. Check out NAEYC's Social and Emotional Development ideas, practice and strategies and a quick view of the CDC's Developmental Milestones of different ages in social and emotional skills.

    Hope that helps a little!
    Best regards,
    Carmelina :-)

    Carmelina Livingston
    STEM Education Specialist
    S2TEM Centers SC
    Charleston SC

  • 7.  RE: Help - Ideas/Suggestions for play-based, project-based engagement

    Posted 07-13-2020 03:07 PM
    Hello Cassandra,
    In response to your comment about your students not engaging in your hands- on tasks I wanted to share that I too had experienced students relaying that their teachers to do just about everything for them. I actually, went to a few Mindful Workshops that helped in the area of having students to start and complete their tasks on their own. Guiding them by giving them visuals in how their finished task will look like. When they have finished it shows them that every task at the end will look different but unique in the way they have approached it. Helping them to the realization that they can do it on their own with limited help. Teachers in your new school should not be drawing for their students it weakens the student's ability to explore and find their own creativity without copying other's work. Showing them visuals of various work of others can enlighten their spark to extend their own sense of wander!

    Milagros Neu
    Pre-K Teacher
    World Of ABC Preschool
    Maplewood NJ