We asked Chicago: Is there enough access to early childhood education?

The No Small Matter team recently hit the streets in our hometown of Chicago to ask everyday folks — including some educators and parents of preschool-aged kids: do enough families have good access to daycare and preschool?

Watch this quick video to hear what Chicagoans had to say - and let us know in the comments if you've had your own struggles to access childcare and preschool where you live.

You got to your destination...now what?

You finally made it to your destination. You survived the traveling part, but now what? Tring to find inexpensive, fun, family-friendly activities on vacation can be a stress all on its own. Here are some tips passed to me from family and friends that are guaranteed to insure a stress-free extrusion.

  • Go to the library. I know this doesn’t sound like a hot tourist destination, but it is a MUST when traveling with kids. Think about it. They’re free, they’re filled with families and locals you can ask about things to do and see. Plus, you might make some new friends. A friend of mine visited a library with her children on a trip to Costa Rica. Her daughter ended up playing with another girl. The moms got to talking, next thing you know the family invited my friend to their beach house for a playdate. Not saying this will happen to you but you never know. In any case the library has computers you can use to look up or print out materials Also, there’s usually a children’s area so the little ones will be entertained. It’s a win win!
  • Hit up local museums. As a MASSIVE museum fan, it is the first place I visit. Do research before you go. Find out about rotating exhibitions, hours, price, and accessibility. Always check to see if they have a stroller policy. That way you know if you have to travel light. Also, check to see if they offer a city pass. Most major cities offer a pass where you get into multiple museums for a huge discounted price.
  • Take public transportation as much as possible. It’s often cheaper than renting a car and it is a TON of fun for the little ones. Think about it, kids are obsessed with trains and buses. It’s more than a ride to them, it is an adventure. If you decide to take the public transportation, see if the city has an app. That way you can plan your trip out ahead of time and be updated on schedules and delays.
  • You know what’s free and awesome…parks! It is a great pre-nap, post-dinner activity. The little ones will get out ALL their energy and you can burn some calories too. When you are at the library make sure you pull up a list of local parks. The local park district often includes different amenities at each location. Try to find one with bathrooms and water fountains.
  • Create a scavenger hunt. A great time to do this is when you are traveling to your destination. It doesn’t have to be city specific either. It will keep little ones engaged, excited, and energized. Print out the hunt provided. Make sure to add your own objects too!
  • When in doubt, Google. Google is your best friend. If for some reason you have exhausted all the items on the list, simply look up local attractions.

Happy travels!! If you have your own tips please share them in the comments below!

                                                                                    -Ms. Giannini

Pt 3. - STEM for Early Educators on a Shoestring

THE JOAN GANZ COONEY CENTER AT SESAME WORKSHOP AND NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION JUST RELEASED THEIR STEM STARTS EARLY REPORT, EXPLORING SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH LEARNING FOR YOUNG CHILDREN. WE HAD THE CHANCE TO ASK LEAD AUTHOR ELISABETH MCCLURE A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT THE REPORT, FOR A THREE-PART BLOG SERIES.

For our third and final installment of our interview, we asked about the practical — how do we implement recent findings on STEM educators?

Q: The report dives into a number of policy and messaging recommendations for better prioritizing STEM in early learning. One obvious constraint is education spending. How can we better integrate STEM, technology in particular, into early learning environments with tight budgets?

McClure: In the early childhood setting, more (and more expensive) technology isn’t always better. In fact, one of the best pieces of technology a teacher can use with very young children is a simple digital camera! Children can use it to record and research bugs and plants they find outside, or document the growth process of plants on the playground. They can take pictures of their body parts and make a puzzle out of them. They can document steps in their daily routine and use the pictures for sequencing activities. The possibilities are endless, and the technology doesn’t have to break the budget.

I think it’s also important to remember that technology isn’t just media or digital media. Technology is about tools and tool use. That can be something as simple as using scissors, or kids figuring out that they need to use a stool to reach something. So, again, this doesn’t need to be an expensive or complicated endeavor. It can be about pointing out to children when they can use a tool to help them meet a challenge they’re facing. So, let’s say a child is trying to get something she can’t reach. Instead of just reaching it yourself and handing it to the child, talk through the situation with her and work through a problem-solving scenario: “Hmmm, let’s stop and think why you might not be able to reach it … Oh, you’re not tall enough? What can we do to make you taller?” And sometimes a child might find a solution like getting a stool, or other times they might surprise you with a really creative solution you hadn’t thought of. So there’s this creative element woven into that problem-solving as well. So by simply scaffolding the child’s critical process during this challenge moment, you’re encouraging math by comparing heights, science by encouraging experimentation, technology by helping her think about tool use, creativity in imagining a solution, and engineering by letting her make her imagined solution into a physical reality. And, on top of all of this, you’re giving her great practice in executive function skills! It’s STEM and so much more.

 Courtesy of the Cooney Center,  STEM Starts Early

Courtesy of the Cooney Center, STEM Starts Early

Q: The report touches on a few examples of holistically integrating STEM into the classroom. Do you have any resources for where teachers can see full lesson plans with tool kits and standards met?

I think a great example of a starting point for teachers or administrators that feel a little uncertain about how to incorporate STEM into their classrooms is this program called STEM from the Start. It’s a series of short videos, supported by PBS, that are meant to be used in the classroom. These video segments are used along with a free teacher guide, which can be downloaded free from the website – and what you do is you show the kids these few minutes of video that get them interested in a STEM question or challenge. Then the teacher follows the teacher guidebook to engage the kids in that STEM activity. After that they return to another follow-up video, etc. It requires very little preparation or expertise on the part of the teacher, and preliminary research is showing that it is really engaging for kids – even those who are English Language Learners or have attention problems. It also is great for teachers who are anxious about teaching STEM and don’t really know where to begin – by walking through the steps in this scaffolded way, it gives teachers an opportunity to experience success and to see how easy it can be to incorporate STEM into their classrooms in an exciting, hands-on, engaging way. It essentially gets their foot in the door so they can start imagining and creating their own ideas. It’s also great because it uses technology that teachers are pretty likely to already have in their classrooms.

 

We're so thankful to the Cooney Center and Elisabeth for sharing their expertise on STEM with us - and hope y'all got some helpful, creative tips for "engineering" (see what we did there?!) STEM into your daily interactions with little learners.

Mac-N-Cheese Please!!

Are you ready to have the greatest mac-n-cheese ever?!? It may come as a surprise but did you know that children's book author and illustrator Todd Parr is also an amazing cook?! Well, he is! Here is Todd's recipe for the the best mac-n-cheese EVER. 

Let’s start with the ingredients

  • 1 box of pasta (if you use elbow macaroni you can talk about different body parts!! Science!!)
  • 2 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 2TBS butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do.

Boil water and cook macaroni. Set aside.

In a separate pot over medium heat add 2 TBS of butter.

When melted add a small handful of the cheddar cheese.

To the cheese and butter add a full can of condensed milk.

Add remaining cheese and turn the heat on low.

Stir continually until the cheese is completely melted.

Add the cheese to the pasta and stir.

WARNING: This will be hot!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wanna turn this into a tasty math and science lesson? Here’s how.

Start with the measuring. Have the little ones measure out the butter and cheese. If your child is anything like me make sure to watch them with the cheese (I’m a totally cheese sneeker!) Measuring allows your child to work on quantity, volume, fractions, and one-to-one correspondence.

Boiling the water is a great place to insert some science. You can talk about the properties of water. Ask your little learner what happens when water gets cold and when it gets hot. Ask them to make predictions about what will happen when you add heat. You can even do a time exploration by making predictions about how long they think it will take for the water to boil.

Bring in some more science with the cheese sauce. Discuss how cheese is a solid (another place to insert some science vocabulary). Then ask them what they think will happen when you add the cheese to the heat.

Finally, you can wrap up this mini lesson with setting the table. Have your little one count how many cups, plates, and forks you will need for dinner. Let them set the table and count as they do each place setting.

Sharing a meal is a powerful thing. According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing regular meals with family reduces substance abuse and depression, while promoting higher grade point averages and boosting self-esteem. 

MASSIVE thanks to Todd for sharing his home, his food, and his friendship! Check out Todd Parr for all things Todd! 

                                            -Ms. Giannini

 

Pt. 2 - Overcoming STEM Anxiety with Adults

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America Foundation just released their STEM Starts Early report, exploring science, technology, engineering, and math learning for young children. We had the chance to ask lead author Elisabeth McClure a few questions about the report, for a three-part blog series.

In Part 2 - It's not just little learners that have anxiety around STEM topics. Parents, and even teachers, don't always feel comfortable diving into science and math.  

Q: How can parents and educators effectively check on our biases (and maybe anxieties!) about science and math in approaching these topics with young children?

McClure: The first step is just to be aware of those biases! Parents and teachers are some of the most influential STEM guides in a child’s life, so when parents and teachers show that they are anxious about STEM topics or demonstrate that they don’t think they’re as important as other domains, or that they are more important for boys than girls, the children quickly pick up on these attitudes and carry them with them into the future. But, conversely, when parents and teachers are confident and enthusiastic about STEM topics and engage the children in developmentally tailored STEM activities, they pass along that excitement to their children.

In terms of what you can do right now, today, I would say: just start feeding your own curiosity! It’s a little like the old “stop and smell the roses” idea. Start being more aware of all the amazing things around you, encourage your own wonder, and then openly express that. Be vocal about saying “Wow!” and, instead of feeling pressured to answer all your students’ “Why? Why? Why?” questions, start asking “Why?” back, and start answering with, “I don’t know! I wonder if…” and then collaborating with students to find ways to answer your questions together. STEM isn’t just a set of topic areas – it is, fundamentally, a way of thinking. So, as a teacher, when you model those ways of thinking as a co-learner (rather than an information-giver), you are nurturing that way of thinking in them as well. If you can cultivate that wonder and curiosity in yourself and in them, then children will have the tools to acquire the content they encounter.

 Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Q: We loved that the report highlighted STEM work already happening in preschool classrooms! How do we better close the loop between longstanding "engineering" and scientific exploration taking place in early childhood settings (fort building, block play, etc.) and building a classroom culture of scientific inquiry that represents what we now know children are capable of?

McClure: The key here is to notice when it’s already taking place, to realize that the child is not only capable of attaining the goal (getting the object) but also of meeting the challenge (solving the problem) with your support, and then take advantage of that opportunity by engaging the child in an interaction that encourages their scientific inquiry. Children already have that natural curiosity – we say they are “born scientists” – but they need your support to grow that curiosity into true STEM skills and habits of mind.

Q: So much STEM early learning happens at home. How can teachers use documentation to illustrate STEM learning and encourage parental buy-in? 

McClure: It can be really helpful, when talking to parents, to explain it in this way: STEM learning is a lot like learning a language. If we want our children to become fluent in STEM, they need to be immersed in STEM learning and be able to practice it across all areas of their lives.

Parents have an enormous opportunity as their child’s first teachers, as well as a consistent presence as they grow and across their environments, to help connect the dots between separate learning experiences and make their learning truly immersive.

And it’s so important for parents to understand that we’re not talking about doing massive science fair projects at home every night. We’re talking about things like keeping an eye out for opportunities to ask their children the “WH” questions – “Who, what, when, where, why?” We’re talking about noticing when their child is experimenting with something, in all those thousands of ways they do every day, and helping to scaffold that process and make it more explicit. Parents don’t need to be experts – they just need to be willing to learn alongside their children, encouraging them to ask questions, and to participate with their child in trying to figure out the answers.

In Part Three of our interview, we'll explore policy and curriculum recommendations for better incorporating STEM holistically into early learning environments.

Teaching While Tattooed: The Art of Observation

A few months ago I posted a blog called, “Teaching While Tattooed.” Ever since the post I’ve been asked details about the curriculum. Everything from, “how did it start?” to the individual lessons, the idea of using a nonconventional topic to teach traditional subjects has drawn a lot of questions. I’m going to be taking the next few blog posts to break down what is one of my favorite explorations ever. Let’s start with the beginning. Observation.

I cannot say enough about the art of observation. Before we jump right in, I want to acknowledge that finding time to take authentic anecdotal notes is hard to do. In a classroom of twenty children we often find ourselves putting out more fires than we want. Between running around, classroom management, and taking ahold of “teachable moments”, being able to sit to take notes on play is a luxury many of us don’t have. But it can be done.

Observation tips:

·      See what is actually happening and not what you want to happen. I cannot tell you how many times I saw a possible interest topic, got excited about all of the possible lessons to create, and then became disappointed when it was a onetime fluke. So how do you tell the between a fluke and a sincere interest?

·      Provocations, provocations, provocations. Once the teachers in the classroom noticed a thread in the children’s play we would put out provocations to “test” their interest. For example if the children were playing farm on Monday  we would put out items in the dramatic play area to support farm exploration on Tuesday. Sometimes it the the interest continued other times...not so much. You just have to wait and see what is truly happening.

·      Rely on other teachers and assistance to help you take observations. Having multiple sets of eyes in the class room is crucial when it comes to anecdotal notes.  It is just as important to have an opportunity to check in. Asking what the others noticed and then creating multiple directions together for possible curriculums is one of the biggest assist in creating authentic explorations.

·      When in doubt ask the kids. Ask them why they’ve been playing______. Ask them what they find interesting about______. Let them assist you in selecting their learning topics. After all the more they are interest the more they take from the exploration.

On to tattoos

The first day I wore a shirt which exposed my tattoos, the children took notice. They started asking me question after question about “why, what, when, how…and did it hurt.” At first I didn’t think much of it. Just children interested and confused about the ideas of permanence and altering appearance. Although their questions tended to dominate most conversations, I brushed off the idea of exploring the topic further.

Then one Monday several of the children came in sporting temporary tattoos. “Look, I’m just like you.” “You lied. This didn’t hurt.” The children showed off their tattoos to the class and several of them wanted to discuss their tattoos with everyone at rug time. All of the children in the class engaged in the discussion and the next day several more children came in flashing new pieces. I have to be honest, although all the makings were there for a class driven exploration, I didn’t see it. Maybe I was just too close to the topic. Maybe I was just too new of a teacher and not ready to take on an untraditional topic as inspiration for an exploration. But I didn’t see it, my co-teacher did. After a long discussion about what we noticed she told me that despite the unusual topic we should pose the idea to the children. At rug the next day we had a discussion about tattoos and if they thought we should learn more about them. The children became extremely excited. The children created a list of topics they wanted to know and that was the start.

If it wasn’t for conversations and observations, we would have never decided to embark on this study.

Next up: How we inserted math, science, literature in the topic of tattoos. 

Pt. 1 - Why Does "STEM" Start Early?

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America Foundation just released its STEM Starts Early report, exploring science, technology, engineering, and math learning for young children. We had the chance to ask lead author Elisabeth McClure a few questions about the report, for a three-part blog series.

In part one of our conversation, we discussed why now is the time for exploring STEM early learning, and why we should think of early childhood education as an "ecological system."

Q: What was the genesis for coming together to work on this report on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) early learning?

In December 2013, several members of our team attended a STEM Smart workshop, cohosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Smithsonian Institution, and Education Development Center, with the intent of reaching early childhood practitioners. We saw that participants were delighted to learn of evidence-based practices and tools, but many declared that they felt too constrained by current school structures and policies to apply what they were learning. They voiced concerns about the misapplication of new education standards, disconnects between preschool and elementary school practices, and an underprepared workforce.

In response to these concerns and the growing scientific consensus about the importance of early STEM learning, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and New America embarked on an exploratory project, funded by the NSF, to: (a) better understand the challenges to and opportunities in STEM learning as documented in a review of early childhood education research, policy, and practice; (b) make recommendations to help stimulate research and policy agendas; and (c) encourage collaboration between pivotal sectors to implement and sustain needed changes. We also accounted for new research on widely held public assumptions about what young children need and how they learn, assumptions that may be barriers to progress. This report is the culmination of those efforts, and it was, at its heart, inspired by the struggles voiced by early childhood practitioners themselves. 

  Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Q: Why describe early learning as an ecological system? How can we apply that framing to other areas of early childhood development?

In education, the impact of multiple, interrelated environments and systems on the child is considerable and affects everyone involved. Educators cannot successfully teach without adequate training and resources, the support of their schools, and parent engagement; researchers cannot produce relevant studies without the support of available funds, the contribution and support of educators in the classroom, and an understanding of the political systems in which their work will be applied; policy makers cannot institute effective policies without the comprehension of the public, the cooperation of teachers, and the support of solid research; and children cannot learn at their full potential without the alignment of all these factors.

 Ultimately, we felt that we couldn’t discuss any one of these factors without addressing them all. We chose to use Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems model, which deeply influences our thinking across all areas of child development at the Cooney Center, as a way to discuss the whole child and the complex, interrelated environments that affect them both directly and indirectly. This model and the idea that, to understand child development fully, we need to consider the child within a series of interconnected and nested systems, can be applied to literally any area of child development.

For those who are curious, the nested systems are defined as follows (best understood in conjunction with Figure 1 on page 13 of the report):

  Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

Courtesy of the STEM Starts Early Report

 

The microsystem is the first circle around the child, the environments in which he or she is rooted. These include the home, classroom, childcare or after-school program, and church or other local community settings—and, of course, the people and experiences within those settings. The next circle is called the mesosystem, which acknowledges the relationships between the microsystem environments. For example, the ways that the child’s schooling affects his or her home life and vice versa, directly or indirectly, or the ways that an adult’s training and level of stress could affect that person’s ability to make a positive impact on the child would be included in this system. The exosystem includes the societal structures and institutions that do not directly contain the child but can directly or indirectly affect him or her—for example, government policies and the research that spurs those policies. Finally, the outermost circle, called the macrosystem, consists of the cultural frames, paradigms, values, and models that shape the environment within which the child learns.

 

Q: The report focuses on STEM, as opposed to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). What led to that decision in framing? How can teachers, parents, and non-traditional educators use a STEAM framing to enhance the learning experience?

We believe that STEM is already present in just about everything. STEM is about a way of thinking, not just about specific content – so it is present in the arts, in literacy, in play, in music, in history, you name it. For that reason it’s already problematic, in a way, that we’ve isolated S, T, E, and M for discussion in the first place, and our main goal was to reintegrate those letters back into all the rest of children’s learning experiences. If we were only to add an A, we would be excluding all the other letters in the alphabet! So rather than grabbing just one additional letter/domain and pulling it into this isolated moniker, we tried to focus instead on immersing these four letters back into the process of holistic learning.

Learning is a process of weaving skills together: no single strand can do all the work and all need to be present, strong, and integrated. As we learn new skills, our brains weave these strands together into braided skill ropes. We use these ropes to do all the complex things that we need to be able to do to function well in school and in life: solve problems, work with others, formulate and express our ideas, and make and learn from mistakes as we grow. Solving problems using data, and experimenting in science, technology, engineering, and math, help us develop strong strands that we can then use in weaving many different kinds of skill ropes. At every age, children need opportunities to practice and learn how to weave these STEM strands into different ropes, depending on the needs of a given task or situation. When kids have strong STEM strands, they can use them for all kinds of things that they will need to be able to do throughout their lives.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview — on how parents and educators can address their own anxieties around STEM (eek!) and incorporate STEM learning into everyday play.

Hello There!

Hello! Howdy! Ciao! Bonjour! Hola!

February 6th through 10th is Start With Hello Week. This week is meant to empower young people to create a culture of inclusion and collectiveness. If you visit the Sandy Hook Promise page you can see activities, lessons, and ideas for children in grades 2-12.

This is an amazing message and one that you can do with preschools too. Here are some of my favorite activities and books to encourage friendship, inclusion and acceptance.

Art: Create a mural with a twist. First, the mural doesn’t have to be anything massive. A large piece of paper, enough for at least 5 kids to work on at a time, will work just fine. You also can use any medium you want. From crayons and pencils to loose parts from Dump Day, let the kids select and go at it. Here is where the twist comes in. Create a boundary for the kids to work in. This encourages the children to talk and negotiate the space. What results is amazing communication and a sweet art piece.

Large Motor: Parachute Play! Nothing says team work more than trying to get twenty children to lift a parachute at the same time. Up the ante by adding a ball. Work together to see how high you can toss the ball in the air. Don’t have a parachute? Use a flat sheet.

Rug Time: Have discussions with the little ones about Why we say Hello. Discuss how being greeted makes us feel, and how it feels when we aren’t greeted. You can totally throw in some role playing here! Assign “greeters” for the class.  Have different children everyday say, “good morning” to each child as they enter the space. Throw in some languages by teaching them a different way to say hello each day.

Math: Have the kids keep a tally of how many people they said “hi” to. You may want to keep a time limit on this. For example; how many people they said hi to at recess.

ALL TIME FAVORITE!! MUST DO!!!

Okay, this is a little sneaky but it is awesome! Bring out a new puzzle the children have never seen. Something large but not too large, think under 30 pieces. No matter how big the puzzle is you are going to take out 1 piece. Have the children work in groups to complete the puzzle. When they discover that the puzzle cannot be completed have them come up with ideas on how to solve the problem as a class. I’ve had kids come up with scavenger hunts (which lead to a massive 2-month exploration on pirates), to making a new piece and then problem solving how they can create the piece to fit exactly. Please do this and tell me in the comments how it goes!

Books: These are just a few of some amazing books you can read with you class on the topics of friendship, inclusion, acceptance.

The Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman

It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr

Say Hello by Rachel Isadora

Have another idea? Place them in the comments below!

                                                            Aloha (hello and goodbye),

                                                                        -Mrs Giannini

Best MLK Jr. Day Activity!

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it can be a tricky topic to get into with a 3 yr old. For many years I jumped into MLK Jr. Day way too deep. After a week of reading books intended for 1st graders and attempting to talk with preschoolers about the Civil Rights Movement, I realized that the kids really didn’t take anything away from my teachings, no matter my enthusiasm for the topic.

Then inspiration struck in the oddest of places, a yoga studio. The instructor was discussing MLK Jr. and what the day was really about. Yes, it’s a celebration of a man’s impact, but also the principles on which he stood; peace, cooperation, and acceptance. That’s when it hit me. I had to meet the children on their level. Instead of focusing all my energy on teaching MLK Jr., I needed to focus on the teachings of MLK Jr. Here is one of my favorite activities to do on MLK Jr. Day.

Enjoy!

Friend Finger Painting

Supplies:

A large piece on finger paint paper, or a large sheet of construction paper

At least two different colors of finger paint

2 kiddos

Let’s Get Started:

Pick two children to work together. Normally I always let the children select who they work with but for this activity I would pair little ones who usually didn’t play together or had trouble getting along. Have the children sit on either side of a table or on the corners near one another. Offer up of the colors you have and let the children each select one color to start. Place a SMALL (think dime size) amount of paint on opposite ends of the paper and let them go at it. As they move the paint around ask them what they think will happen when the paints touch. Ask them what new color it would make. Take the questioning even further and ask them WHY they think their responses. With the paper pretty much covered (trust me it will be super covered) ask them to pick another color to add to their art. Have them decide TOGETHER which color they would want to add. Add an even smaller amount of paint at the top of the paper and let them play.

Questioning Opportunities:

As the children paint remark on different sections of their work and ask them to describe what is happening. Write down what they say on a separate piece of paper so you can read it back later. When the painting is finished, “What are going to call this” is an amazing question.

Accommodations:

Sensory issues are not uncommon with little ones and one way to get around this with finger paint is by providing Q-tips.

Closing the Activity:

At rug time share the paintings with the class. Have the children who worked together stand up as tell their friends what they created and the name of their piece. As a class discuss the importance of working together and reinforce that when we work together we can make amazing things.

 

Have fun painting and happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!!!

                                                                                                -Ms. Giannini

A Sign Language Lesson for Every Day of the Week

I grew up learning American Sign Language. My younger sister has Down Syndrome and as a family we used a lot of sign language to communicate. When I started college the original plan was to become an interpreter. It wasn’t until I took an education course as an elective that I decided to become a teacher. As a teacher I LOVED introducing this beautiful language to the students. Within weeks the children were picking up signs faster than I could introduce them. I would look around the room during the day to see the children communicating with one another. Within months of introducing sign language, the principal paid me a visit. My class shared a wall with her office and I was always hyper aware of the insane noise level. However, her visit that day wasn’t to tell me that my class was a little disruptive. It was my room was so quite she thought we left the class.

As we walked down the halls I gave directions in sign language. When we sat at rug I used sign language. When we attended assemblies you better believe I reminded the children of our class rules in sign.  Sign Language was implemented in every part of the class room. From behavior modifications to teaching literacy, it was used everywhere. Sign Language didn’t just live in the classroom; the children took the language home. Daily I had parents asking me what a sign was their child was doing. I found myself teaching parents almost as much sign as their children.

So…I know what you’re thinking…that’s great, but I don’t know any sign language. A wise person once told me that you only need to know one thing more than a child for them to consider you an expert. So that’s what you are going to do. Here is a weekly breakdown of how you can implement sign language without being fluent.

Sunday

Look up and learn three signs to use during the week. Think about what you are working on and start there. I would always introduce a letter, a word that started with that letter, and a conversational sign like, “yes, no, please, thank you, mom, dad, friend.” Think of words the kids use a lot and start with those.

Monday

At the first rug introduce and practice all the signs. Then try to use it throughout the morning. Come second rug time see if anyone can remember. We would always play, “Name that Sign!”, it was a ton of fun and a great way to practice.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Repeat practicing the signs at rug and using them throughout the day.

Friday

Ask the children what signs they want to learn the follow week. It is a great way to insert voting and numbers. Add the winning sign to the list for the next week. Repeat.

So where are you going to find all these signs you ask? I HIGHLY recommend ASLpro.com. It is a video dictionary and extremely easy to use. It is also where you can go in a moment’s notice if a child asks you what a sign is. You can talk about what a dictionary is and then look up the sign together.

I love when teachers start using sign. Share in the comments below what worked and didn’t work for you.

Happy Signing!

                                                            -Ms. Giannini