As I travel the country doing early childhood workshops, I am always very concerned with math instruction. Of course there is a new resurgence of math concentration with the attention given to STEM and STEAM schools. Each organization has it’s own set of mathematics standards. My one large criticism is that sometimes the language used in standards is so academic that I fear many classroom teachers fail to absorb the full impact of the standard. I’m not suggesting we dummy things down, but just make sure that we use language that is usable to the early childhood teacher. I also worry that standards are not often listed in the order that you should introduce them to a child.
Through all of the language of mathematics standards, I think the simplicity of developmentally appropriate math strategies gets lost. I watch many teachers instruct students in a math standard before the child has a solid foundation with which to understand and incorporate that skill. A solid foundation will provide a solid basis for the scaffold of math the child should develop. A good foundation will last throughout time. I recently found the foundation of a dock on the coast of Kauai, where they used to load pineapples. The farming and production ceased long ago, but the foundation of the dock has lasted through time. A math foundation for a child should be just as solid.
I have found that the following developmental steps provide a solid foundation for future math skills:
- Spatial Relationships
- One to one correspondence
- Place value
Each one of the skills listed provides a solid foundation for the skills that comes next. For more information, check out the book, Count on Math by Dr. Pam Schiller or download my conference handout about math on the right side of this blog.
For years I have enjoyed the books written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, even the volumes that have not been chosen as award winners. His newest picture book, Waiting, is delightful and fun. The waiting theme made me think of the years I was a kindergarten teacher.
Prior to coming to kindergarten, many children experience a strong build-up by family members. Everyone exclaims, “You get to go to kindergarten in the fall. You must be so excited!” The anticipation for a five-year-old must be enormous. More than once, I had a child express concerns after the first few days of kindergarten. “Is this it?” they would say. It always kept me on my toes to make sure that my classroom was an engaging and exciting experience. I knew I had to live up to the big build-up kindergarten had received, because I wanted them to feel, “WOW! This IS it!”
Waiting also made me think about the number of times I have been in classrooms and watched children waiting…Waiting for other children, waiting for the teacher, waiting for their turn, waiting for their snack, etc. We know that when children are not engaged, the chance of them displaying negative behavior goes up dramatically. A smart teacher will be organized enough to minimize any waiting time for their students, especially early childhood age children. Here are a few things that worked in my classroom to help children avoid waiting:
- There was always something to do. Whenever the children were engaged in a project, there were always more activities to do when they finished the planned activity. I often posted picture of each activity on the board so that the children could look up and know what to do next. This way, they never waited for other students to finish.
- There was a procedure for everything. The children knew the procedures for going to the bathroom, getting a drink, getting a sharpened pencil, getting paper, staying put when the teacher was giving directions, etc. I reminded the children often about the procedures and used those reminders as teaching tools.
- “I’m Next” nametags. I created (thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Sharon MacDonald) some nametags that said, “I’m Next.” Whenever taking a turn was the procedure (using the computer, iPad, sand table, play dough table, etc.), I had the child(ren) who would be next wear the necklace. That way they knew they were next and didn’t keep asking me about it. ALSO, the other children in the classroom didn’t waste time waiting, because they knew they were not next.
- A daily visual schedule. I found it important to have a daily schedule posted so the children knew what was coming next. I was always surprised at the number of children who waited for the next activity. I always told the children that we would move to the next scheduled part of the day when we finished the one we were working on. I would give them a signal when we were ready. I do think that this visual reminder gave them a sense of security and a strong feeling that they didn’t need to wait.
There were many other things I did that helped, but these were the main strategies that helped children avoid waiting. I always strived to make my classroom an engaging, joyous environment, where the children were never waiting and the activities met their high expectations for kindergarten.
Possible posting themes:
I have been speaking at a number of early childhood conferences around the country talking about many early childhood topics. One topic that has been of particular interest to educators is my classroom management workshop called, “Classroom Management Should be Easier than Herding Cats.” Most early childhood educators recognize that they must have group management strategies that work with young children. The atmosphere of the classroom is critical to learning and providing security for the children in their care. The handout for my workshop is down the right side of this blog, under Conferences. Check it out. It may contain information that will be helpful to you.
At the beginning of each fall semester at the university, when I meet with my new group of student teachers, I tell my candidates that I insist they learn how to effectively run a classroom. I know that they can learn the academic content and how to create engaging lessons, but if they can’t run an effective classroom setting all the other preparation may be for nothing. I often visit my student teaching candidates’ classrooms and model teach for an hour, emphasizing management procedures. Concentrating on that organization and management works every time. My 18 student teachers who are graduating in two weeks are all rock stars! They can run a classroom and the content and engagement followed closely behind. Since my candidates are assigned to very at-risk schools, I feel confident they will be able to teach in just about any setting. In fact, three of the candidates already have teaching jobs for the fall and the rest have multiple interviews in the next couple of weeks.
I do appreciate products that will help teachers be efficient, such as the Visual Schedule. But, products and classroom materials are only as good as the teacher.
Here we sit in the snow and cold as another winter is upon us. We recently returned for a trip to Hawaii. How glorious it was to experience ‘paradise’ and get a break from the cold weather (which has been unseasonably cold this year). As the snow was falling today, I found myself wishing I was back sitting on the Waikiki Beach. Then I remembered, as so often before in my life, that paradise is where you are. It is up to us to create our own paradise and be happy with our surroundings. I have always felt sorry for those people who seem to stumble along daily wishing they were at another place in life. One can waste an entire life wishing for different circumstances. As usual, this always brings me back to the classroom where the same thing applies. Are the children sitting there wishing for a different setting, or are they experiencing paradise? It is up to the educator to make sure it is the latter.