Friday, October 2, 2015

The Elevation of Shabbat Every Friday

".......L'hadlik Ner Shel Shabbat!

The hustle and bustle of all our Chaggim (holidays) may make one think that Shabbat can somehow get lost in the shuffle or fall between the cracks, but not at AJA!!! Our favorite day of the week is erev Shabbat and for many reasons!!

My Rabbi reminded me in a past Shabbat themed class, that "Shabbat is not about what you can't do, but rather about what you can". These wise words were shared after a young parent sitting in the class was concerned about all the restrictions put upon her preschooler who wanted to play with an electronic toy during Shabbat. She wanted to know how to keep Shabbat positive, when she had to restrict the use of this favorite toy in the name of Shabbat. At AJA, Shabbat really does become about what one "can" do!!

The ambiance in the early childhood wing every Friday truly exemplifies the joy of the Shabbat spirit. Fridays become a sensory experience not only for the children but for the whole school. We even get visitors every week from teachers in other departments who have actually made it their Friday ritual to appear in the Early Childhood wing simply to smell the challah baking.

A very focused challah baker
Kissing the Torah
Reggio approaches are seen everywhere we turn. Teachers set up the environment to provoke children's interest document the magic that happens as children construct their own learning or recall experiences that are real and concrete to them (as opposed to just hearing about an abstract topic they never experienced). The children actually experience Shabbat. The teachers create a joyful environment that provokes interest in Shabbat, because it is a real part of our culture. Experiencing the culture of the community is a Reggio approach. Providing materials in the environment, so that children can extend or construct new ideas is also a Reggio approach. Taking photos and other documentation of the experience is a Reggio approach.
Our K'tantanim friends play "Shabbat Dinner" in the kitchen center

In one class I had the pleasure of observing one Friday.The children integrated my presence in the room into their experience as they invited me as their Shabbat "guest". I witnessed each child take pride in their contribution to the set up of the snack table, which was of course an elevated level of beauty, just for Shabbat. One child had the job of putting out a centerpiece of flowers, while others had various jobs to set up the candlesticks, challah, the kiddush cup, etc. After a short version of Shalom Aleichem was sung, the Shabbat Imah and a Shabbat Abah helped lead the rest of the group in the main blessings that help welcome Shabbat into the home. The candles were lit and the Shabbat Imah led everyone in the candle lighting blessing.  A Kiddush blessing was recited and everyone had a sip of grape juice. The ritual hand washing was done before the challah.  The teacher reminded them of the importance of staying respectfully quiet between the hand washing blessing and the eating the challah after saying the "Hamotzie" blessing. After eating challah, the children were treated to a special Shabbat snack that is only for Fridays. What a joyful experience to look forward to every Friday. For some of the children this may be the only Shabbat experience they are having for now, and it was exciting to share that part of the day with them and see the joy in their faces.

Shalom Aleichem
Shabbat magic in Morah Kunis's classroom
Each class goes through their own ritual of welcoming the Shabbat spirit into their classrooms, the whole department smells of fresh baking challah, songs of Shabbat can be heard, teachers seem to have a little extra step in their walk and as if that wasn't enough, we highlight the week with a grand finale of sorts by joining together for a Kabbalah Shabbat Oneg, where we sing Shabbat songs as a group, watch a slide show of all of our friends, and if a class is kind enough to oblige, we are treated to a small performance.

Come visit any Friday and experience the magic!!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reflections on the 2015 Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference

Although the title might make you think otherwise, this conference was not only for Art teachers. It was a conference for teachers who wish to use art more as a vehicle for their content. Those who know me know that my initial certification is in Art, K-12, and that I got my Early Childhood certification on top of that. So visual art is 1000% my thing. But when you start teaching in a Pre-K classroom, there's so much more that comes into play. The alphabet, numbers, shapes, science, social studies, play, development of relationships...the list goes on! And that's without even mentioning Judaics or Ivrit. When it comes to content, our plates are full in Pre-K!

A good teacher conference should be equal parts fun and practicality. There should be moments that speak to you on a personal level as well as a professional level. The beauty of this conference is that the standard "best practices"-type sessions were interspersed with art experiences. You could peruse the galleries at the High, watch the Alliance's production of "Knuffle Bunny" or sit in on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's rehearsal. Here's the genius in that:

When the brain is in a state of stress, we can't take in new information. Stressed learners are not great learners. We know that art experiences can produce the opposite effect. Experiences in art (music in particular) send the brain into a state of calm, stimulated focus. When the brain is calm and focused new information can best be taken in. (Forgive me for the generalities-- I am no expert on functions of the brain. I am synopsizing David Holland's class "Drumming Up Cognition.")

So what better way for teachers to learn than by being active participants in art experiences throughout the 3-day conference?  I for one, feel much more ready to begin some light mental lesson planning, to start molding out the scope and sequence, the depth and breadth of our 2016 curriculum after a few minutes of live symphony practice. Don't you?

My scavenger hunt group, doing a modern take on Rodin's "Burghers of Calais" (below)

I chose to focus on the art of storytelling for most of my sessions. I would share more about that here, but I'm going to let the new stuff remain a secret until it's implemented in the coming school year. All I can say is, Ganon, get excited! The coming year is going to be a BLAST!

"World Events" sculpture by Tony Cragg, just outside the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

"Los Trompos" (The Spinning Tops) at the High

Sitting in on a working rehearsal at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Renowned storyteller David Gonzalez gives Wednesday's opening address
Kim Bowers Rheay-Baran shares her Story Basket method

Friday, May 22, 2015

Enough Counting . . .It's Here!

Getting Ready for Shavuot
Making our sweet-as-candy Sefrei Torah--each one contains our own illustration of a   mitzvah . . .
 Writing about the customs and traditions of Shavuot.  We heard the story of Megillat Rut.
 And we know that Har Sinai became covered with flowers.  We decorate with flowers.
Free-play time means we sometimes make our own Torah scrolls.
We hold them up high.
And place them in the Aron Kodesh.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Couponing With Intention

After my Sunday coupon clipping sessions, I sometimes pack the leftover coupons in my bag to bring to the children on Monday. Coupon clipping can be a wonderful, quiet activity to set out during the end of a rest time.

But what is gained in clipping coupons for a 5-year-old?

There's so much intention in everything we do. Just one glance at the GELDS (Georgia Early Learning and Developmental Standards) and we can see there is so much more going on here than we realize at first glance:

Standard PDM6.4a: Performs fine-motor tasks that require small-muscle strength and control.
Standard SED1.4d: Shows independence in his/her own choices.
Standard CLL1: Listens to conversations and demonstrates understanding. 
Standard CLL3, Cll4: Uses non-verbal communication, as well as increasingly complex spoken language.
Standard CLL8.4d: Recognizes environmental print. 
Standard CD-MA1.4b: Recognizes numerals and uses counting as part of play. 
Standard CD-SS4.4c: Describes how people interact economically and how goods and services are exchanged (It's true! They understand that coupons have to do with money, and have conversations about going to the store and grocery shopping). 

Sometimes the learning that occurs in early childhood classrooms can be on the discreet side- your child does not bring home worksheets or homework in which the learned curriculum is overt. But we see that socially, physically, and cognitively, there is a lot going on. Of course, we see all the expected GELD-related results.  We also see much more.  Because of all the talking, sharing and displays of empathy, a higher level of goals are being attained.  The children are increasing their relationship skills, learning the verbal give-and-take that is so crucial to emotional intelligence. They are ready for kindergarten, and more.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Just Hanging Out? Not Exactly.

Morning Arrival--More Than Just Hanging Out 
      Each morning, we choose a different activity.  Sometimes we want to work by ourselves; usually we seek a playmate or two (or three or four!) to work with us.  On some mornings, we stay where we're "planted"--very engaged in one particular game or set of manipulatives, and we don't want to leave.  On other mornings, we visit different stations around the room, trying out some art, some building, some reading.  Maybe we want to work at a table-top activity, maybe we want to try the big puzzles or Marble Run on the floor.  We have several choices, and it's up to us to pick.
       Here the blocks become a garage, and all the cars are parked so neatly.  It's fine to mix-it-up, with cars and blocks becoming part of a single center, as long as we are prepared to clean it up when it's time for Morning Meeting.  Morning Arrival does come with that responsibility, and we're good at that.  It's the end of our Ganon year, and we know how to be respectful of the materials.

     It takes a lot of planning and negotiation with our friends to build a structure.  We have to think:  is it balanced?  Do we want our structure to be functional, attractive--or both? Can we add more, or is it finished?  What do we do when one friend wants to add an elevator, and the other friend says, "No way!"
      Art is a real biggie, and has been all year long.  We cut, glue, color.  Sure, we're increasing our fine motor skills, but so much more is going on here.  Often, we construct and create new paper crafts.  We have made kites, books, flags and even hula skirts!  We look to our neighbors for advice.  We ask a friend, "Hey, how did you make that?"  There's a lot of conversation at this table.

      When we were younger, we tended to dump a big container to get to all the pieces.  Now, we're mature--many of us are already 5 years old!  We take the specific pieces we want.  We move the items we don't want in order to get a closer look at all the pieces in the box.

      We learn to share, too.  Here, one boy has taken "ownership" of some Scholastic book flyers.  His friends ask, "Give me a picture of this book." "I want this one!"  Our friend cuts out the photos of the book covers, and gives his friends what they have "ordered."
     The loft is a great place to get away from the busyness of the room.  We sit and chat and play pretend games.

     Our class Library is another get-away-and-chill space.  We can "read" while we sit with a buddy.  No need to chit-chat, just enjoying our friend's company and the company of a great read is fine in this little corner.

     Morning Arrival includes the structure of Journal time.  A Morah sits with a small group of children.  We illustrate, and the Morah guides us as we write our words.  We can sound-out so many words, and we know how to write almost all the letters of the alphabet.  When we need some help, we look at our alphabet strips, or we ask a neighbor, or the Morah.  We have quite a few strategies!

     (Full disclosure--and I'm totally amazed as I write this--all of the above pics are from one single morning--without any teacher prompts.  What an amazing Ganon group!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Around this time every year, I undertake what we call "kindergarten screenings."  These screenings give us an idea and a little insight into the children coming from outside of our school, as well as a good summary of how our current Pre-K students have fared.  While I am not particularly in favor of this screening process, I have come to terms with it and realize the benefits it can have. This being said, I try to just savor in the positive interaction I have with each child.

The test given consists of general academic type activities plus a few personal questions ; my favorite part of course, as there is nothing more fun than listening to the responses given by 4 and 5 year olds! When a lovely little boy this past week, was asked by another tester, to look at a picture of a family in their kitchen, and  to give a word beginning with the sound "sh" I expected one of the usual three responses.... "I don't know,:" "shoes," or ...."quiet" (sh must mean quiet:)  He however took his time and timidly replied "shadow".  Not once had I noticed the shadow left by the shoes by the door, or by the tree outside, not once in the almost 6 years I have given this test did I even contemplate the word "shadow."

It takes a child like this to remind us that tests, screenings, evaluations etc. may have their place, but oh do not allow us to let these things get in the way of noticing the depth and beauty, the wise perception, and the more important things that these children are made up of.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All Pesach, All the Time!

Ganon Experiencing Pesach . . .
(For the first time in the history of AJA, three Ganon teachers will attempt to work together to create a single blog posting--can we do it?  In the traditional ECD spirit of cooperation, coupled with a rah-rah-rah-let's-go-attitude, we are going to give it a try. Here we go . . .)
(Because Morah Susan is the senior member of the Ganon Team, and because she actually likes to type, she is going first . . .here is what she has to say . . .)
     We began our week with a conversation about Matzah.  What, exactly, do we know about this wonderful substance?  We state a few choices and write them down during our Morning Meeting. 
     We decide that Matzah is crunchy, tasty and flat.  How do we know for sure?  

     We crack just one piece.  We hear that distinctive snap! Yes, Matzah is crunchy!

      We sample a corner of the broken piece.  Yep, it's tasty. 

  Now we're ready to touch the Matzah.  We agree that it is flat.  We also notice all the bumps. 
     So, the final result:  our hypothesis of Matzah being crunchy, tasty and flat--all true!
(And now it's Morah Goldie's turn to share; she's ready to tell us about Monday's Pesach lesson . . .) 

     We get ready to play Matzah Match.  We match letters of the alphabet to our Matzah rectangles.  We review the names and sounds of the ABC's as we made our matches. 
     Many of our letters reinforced Pesach vocabulary.  Can we find an M for Matzah?  We did a beautiful job! 
(And on Tuesday morning, Morah Anat took the helm.  Her Morning Message was about the art of Ancient Egypt.  We learn about the Egyptian Ravid (collars); we get ready to create our own . . .) 

           Our Morning Message contained one clue:  did we recognize this ravid, Egyptian collar?  Was it a necklace, a very huge one?  No way, it's a ravid. 
      We look at art pictures from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  We notice the intricate patterns.  We learn that the important people in Ancient Egypt wore these collars.
     Learning about Pesach is fun.  We're getting ready to join our families and friends on Seder night.  Will we have stories and information to share when we're at the table?  We are gaining in knowledge and confidence daily . . .we can't wait for Pesach! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Purim and Ganon--we're happy!

 A Happy Purim to All . . .
      When the month of Adar comes around, our happiness increases.  Each day we pick a new Melech and Malkah.  We love to sit like kings and queens on our thrones and think about Megillat Esther.  We learn the story of Esther, Mordechai and the wicked Haman that happened in Shushan so long ago.  Our classroom looks like a Persian palace!

     We inspect a Megillah.  We notice that it is different than a Sefer Torah. 

      We sing songs and dance.  We have two favorite songs:  Mishenichnas Adar and Chag Purim.  We are so happy that we get up to dance as we are singing.
      Parents and grandparents come in to help us bake.  We know that Hamanatashen look like Haman's triangle hat or his ears.  (We also know that they are so delicious!  For filling, we choose either jelly or chocolate chips.)

     We love to create crafts.  We make a scepter, just like the one that King Achashverosh had.  We prepare baskets for Mishloach Manot, the minimum of two food gifts that we will give to at least one friend.  We also make groggers--we need those when we hear the Megillah.  

     There are four mitzvot of Purim.  We know about the Megillah, Mishloach Manot, and the special meal.  We decide that we want our Tzedaka money to poor people.  Should our money stay here in Atlanta, or go to Israel?  We vote that we want to send our money to go to a soup kitchen in Jerusalem.  Morah Susan said that she once volunteered there a long time ago and that it is a wonderful place.  We're happy with our decision . . .and we're happy that it's Purim.
  Chag Purim Samayach!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tu B'shevat for Two's

I think most two year old's have at some point in their short lives, stopped to enjoy the beauty of a tree.

Lying on a blanket and looking up into the branches or listening to the rustle of leaves as a strong wind blows and the crunching through a pile of dried leaves.

Before we cognitively learn about all the amazing things trees do for us and for our environment —we instinctively just love their beauty!

To a two year old, trees seem to touch the sky!

Trees are magical and mysterious. So we set ourselves the task of 'teaching' Tu B'Shevat through touching, looking, listening, smelling and tasting.
These boys were playing in the fragrant damp dirt and are digging for worms (which they would not find) so we added an assortment of bugs.

At the light table these two year old's examine mini trees in a bottle. The water has a magnifying property and each strand of leaf can be seen.

While molding cold, wet clay into the shape of a tree trunk, this little girl uses a fork to create a bark like texture.

It is this little boy's turn to cut up and add fruits from trees for the morning snack.
We used kiwi, apple, orange, and pear.