After 8 years of teaching preschoolers of all abilities, Aaren Harris has a laid back approach to preparing children for their academic start and more than a few tricks up her sleeve! After receiving her Masters in Early Childhood from St. Rose, her inner voice was muddied and confused. As a natural teacher with little theory, she could clearly observe activities that engaged and enthralled children- and they were almost all play-based and truly hands-on. While the lights were on and the senses aware, learning would occur easily- especially through games and song.
Throughout her time preparing students for Kindergarten, she realized that there were more than a few times she would need to choose between explicit prescribed lessons and a more playful and child-centered approach. However, there are a number of tried and true activities and games she has learned that grab and maintain children's attention and allow children to absorb numbers, letters or concepts more quickly, even in the forest. In fact, according to research by Dr. Karyn Purvis, scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions. You can present information again and again, but until a child is engaged, they will not absorb it. While Aaren is very familiar with the screening process for kindergarten, she does not judge a child's progress toward these goals as the most important indicators of kindergarten success. At the heart of readiness is the ability to cope with challenges and be able to self-regulate. Yes, a strong set of fingers, an appropriate pencil grasp and the ability to quickly decode letters and translate them into sounds is wonderful, but it is a long long day for a little person and they will need the stamina to focus, listen and absorb what is going on around them. They also need to be able to get along with others, self-regulate and be ready for the fine motor challenges of writing.
New York State
Everything we do at Little Wings will be working toward one (or more) of the goals in the 5 domains clearly laid out by the New York State PreKindergarten Standards above. Give the document a good read and be familiar with the goals for your child. It takes a village!
DOMAIN 1: Approaches to Learning- How children become involved in learning and acquiring knowledge.
DOMAIN 2: Physical Development and Health- Children’s physical health and ability to engage in daily activities, both outdoors and inside.
DOMAIN 3: Social and Emotional Learning- The emotional competence and ability to form positive relationships that give meaning to children’s experiences in the home, school, and larger community.
DOMAIN 4: Communication, Language, and Literacy- How children understand, create, and communicate meaning.
DOMAIN 5: Cognition and Knowledge of the World- (Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Arts) What children need to know and understand about their world and how they apply what they know.
FUNdations in the Forest Phonics
Both Ballston Spa Central School District and Saratoga Springs City School District are using the FUNdations Phonics program to teach children to read. Mrs. Harris has had 2 years of practice with this method and can easily incorporate these lessons into fun Forest activities. Children should leave the program with all the FUNdations sounds learned through practice, sign language and Sounds in Motion, where each phoneme has a kinesthetic movement to go along with it. One of her most favorite games involves using flashcards to hide a bug or a monster and allowing the children to close their eyes and guess which letter the little bug is hiding under. In this case, it might be a living bug! The goal is for the children to know all their letters and letter sounds, but most children entering K at 5 still struggle with b and d, p and q and a few others. This is totally normal! We are asking children to learn to read a whole year earlier than we did!
Wild Math Curriculum
This Math Curriculum has charmed us here at Little Wings. Of course there are many things to count indoors, but equally it is easy and natural to encorporate math into our every day lives outdoors on the Farm as well. How many eggs did we get today? How many chickens made it through the night? How many acorns can you place in the ten frame. Can we roll a giant dice and just know based on how the dots look how many are there? Now lets find that many mushrooms on our walk! We will be using games and activities from the Wild Math Kindergarten Curriculum at school and suggest you take a look at the Wild Math website to begin adding some of the suggested math games to your game night! Math is visual and manipulatives from nature are so easy to find. Counting foods or found natural objects offers a child a reason to gain number sense and early math skills like counting back, counting on, making 10, adding sets, or dividing a commodity equally among friends.
Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math
When it comes to science, technology, engineering, art and math, everyone is singing the praises of open ended play with loose parts and process art with many mediums. In Early Childhood, this notion that children will use and manipulate objects in their environment, sounds like a new idea. Hardly. The more you take away single use type toys and replace with open-ended objects, the better. Thus the more junk you leave on my property, the better. :-) Bring your old drainpipes, off cuts of wood, branches, tubing, broken hoses, cinder blocks, spools, buckets, pulleys, lumber. Open-ended materials, environments, and experiences encourage problem solving, cooperation, engineering and math concepts and are child directed. This type of play directly supports the NYS PreK Approaches to Learning domain where kids need to show curiosity, cooperation, problem solving, engagement, and persistence in trying something new. Art and mark making are also constantly offered and encouraged, though all of us don't have to make the same thing! Most of our crafts won't turn out the way we envision as adults, but the process of making them will be the reward.
Aaren is a science nerd. Before deciding on being an English Literature major at Union College, she was there for a Biology degree and was in the Pre-Med Program. After college, her interest in Environmental Science, Biology and Botany fed her thirst instead of fine literature. There is always something growing, something living and something crawling and creeping when Mrs. Harris is around. She is not afraid of anything except venomous snakes and mountain lions and she will handle, inspect and explore every living thing she finds with children. There is no better feeling than seeing a froglet hop away after watching its metamorphosis from egg onward. Every year there will be caterpillars turning into Monarchs or Swallowtails, beetles, millipedes, pillbugs, spiders, worms, perhaps even a baby robin, tadpoles, baby chicks and hopefully soon, some lambs on this old farm. We will dissect owl pellets, have a visit from a Wildlife Rehabilitator or two, grow, discover and explore any living thing we can get our hands on. This is not for show- we are just as excited to find a nest of baby eggs. Using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock helps guides our questions and leads us to research the questions we can't answer.