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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Big box fort and literacy

This week I am not writing about an apparatus at the sensory table.  Rather, I write about a structure I built in the large muscle area of my classroom.  ( I always have large muscle play in my classroom as an option for the children who need to move when they need to move.  That is pretty much all children.)  Rest assured that it portends things to come in the sensory table.  

Let's face it,  I like cardboard boxes.  I especially like big boxes because big boxes allow for the creation of appealing spaces that the children can explore inside and out with their whole bodies. One of the things I like to do with big boxes is to connect them to form a fort with interconnecting rooms with multiple ways in and out and multiple windows to peek in and out of.  Two years ago, I wrote about a box fort I set up the large muscle area of my classroom.
The fort consisted of five boxes of different sizes interconnect with passage ways on the inside and windows and doors all around.
The play was so good and so rich, that I wanted to do it again when the opportunity presented itself in the form of multiple big boxes. It just so happened that last November my daughter and son-in-law moved back to town with a moving company.  Moving companies use wardrobe boxes for packing up clothes.  I asked for the boxes and saved four for a new box fort for the large muscle area.  Large boxes are easily transported if they are broken down so they are flat.  They can easily be taped back together to make the big box again.

I have a small SUV so I was able to transport them to school and reconstruct them with duct tape.  Below you can see this year's box fort.  All four boxes are taped together on the outside and on the inside for greater stability.  Boxes 1, 3 and 4 have doors into the fort.
Box 2 is the connecting box that the children pass through as they navigate the inside of the structure.  Below is look inside box 2. The doorways to each of the other boxes are denoted (1, 3, and 4).
It looks like there is a traffic jam in the connecting box.  No problem, though, because children's sense of space is so much different than that of adults.

Besides the doors, there are six windows.  Windows 1, 2, 3, and 4 are on the sides of boxes.  Windows 3 and 4 are small narrow windows on two sides of the middle box  Windows 5 and 6 are cut in the top of two of the boxes.
Windows 1, 2 and 5 have flaps to open and close.  Windows 3, 4, and 6 are open cuts.  

The windows offer unique frames through which the children can view each other---both from the inside and from the outside.

There is one particular type of play in and around the fort that caught my eye this year.  That particular type of play can be considered literacy play.  Let's start on the inside.  The fort became a perfect spot for a child to retreat to do her writing.

On the outside, one child decided to tag one of the boxes with her name.  Can you say graffiti? 
I pride myself in knowing everything that goes on in my classroom, but I did not see the child do this.  The writing table is right next to the large muscle area so I am surprised more children did not get the idea.

The last bit of play around literacy is based on a short video I took of three children playing a made-up game of rollicking balls.  One child is outside the structure trying to throw or stuff balls into one of the boxes.  Another child is in the box deflecting or throwing out those same balls.  The third child in the taller adjacent box keeps reaching through the hole to throw or deflect the balls, also.

The following week, I showed the video to the child in the taller box.  After showing him the video, I asked him if he could draw himself throwing the ball.  Since this child had not draw much at the writing table, I was surprised that he accepted the challenge.  I set up the IPad with the picture of him reaching through the hole throwing the ball and he started to draw.

Did I plan this literacy play?  No I did not.  I thought I had built a large muscle apparatus that the children could use to explore spaces with their whole body.  They did that for sure, but the children created so much more through their play by combining their ideas with the resources, materials and open-ended invitations.  
P.S. On my Facebook page at the end of February, I shared a post (https://blog.kinstantly.com/kids-forts/ ) about the need for children to build forts.   The post mostly talks about older children building forts outside, but I think there is a place for forts inside a preschool room, too.

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