Category Archives: Tina’s Classroom

A Good Preschool

So what makes a good preschool program?

1.   A school with teachers that treat each student with respect, and understands and appreciates the uniqueness of each child.

IMG_0359Keeping a watchful eye while a child builds with blocks

IMG_3337Allowing the child to experiment

2.  A school whose biggest asset are the teachers because they teach with intention and purpose.  

IMG_0292Sorting Shoes according to shoe closures:  laces, velcro, zipper, elastic

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Without teacher direction, a simple flower arrangement left on the counter inspired this clay creation

3.  A school with a principal/director who knows how to manage resources–teachers, materials, facilities, and parents.  The principal has the responsibility to hire and retain teachers.

This is the very basic; the core of a good school.

Once you have a list of schools that have all these qualities, then you can look at the program.

Where do you think your child will learn more and thrive?

In a child-centered program– Play-based, Project-Based, Bank Street, Reggio Emelia?

IMG_3232Diorama of a child’s bedroom

Or a teacher-directed program?  –think elementary school program but for little children, individual desks in rows, scheduled classes in reading, writing, math

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Does your child learn best by sitting on a chair reading quietly (Look for a more structured class that offers more teacher direction),

Or does he need to be move around and be active every few minutes? (Explore schools that allow children to move freely around the classroom)

Then, take into consideration your own goals.

Do you want your child to learn another language? (You need a language immersion program)

After careful research, you should be able to find a good school with little to no compromise needed.

My advice as a parent of young children myself: provide an environment that teaches life skills.

Preschool is the perfect opportunity for children to learn how to share, negotiate, explore, question, and experiment. I discovered that the older children get, the less tolerant they are of their peers who do not know how to be a team player.

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Early Childhood Education

As a preschool teacher for many years, I am always asked what kind of preschool program I recommend.

My short answer: “It depends.”

The program in itself should not be the deciding factor.  You have the child’s interests to consider, as well as the ability of the teachers to implement the program.

IMG_0344Rolling plastic eggs down a ramp

I was fortunate to participate in an intensive preschool teaching conference by Bing Institute, the preschool laboratory program of Stanford University in California.

For five days they showed through classroom observations and experiential activities, how the five basic simple materials– sand, clay, water, blocks, and paint when used consistently, could teach and engage young children.

IMG_2227Scooping sand to a bucket and then transferring to a waiting dump truck

It was impressive how the organizers were able to tie up the use of the basic materials to the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical domains of learning.

On the last day of the conference, as the facilitators were trying to summarize 40 hours of hands on experience and presentations, the participants were asked to share what they learned.

As I was contemplating my answer to share with my peers, I had an epiphany!

  • The materials are not as important as the teachers who use them. The children become successful in making connections to the real world because of the teachers.

IMG_1675Observational Drawing: Vegetables from the Farmer’s Market

  • The teacher’s skill to facilitate learning and growth in the classroom is crucial.

IMG_0390Making Healthy Choices Project:  Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy

Smart boards and computers are important and some say, even necessary, to stay competitive in the preschool market.

But I say, a good teacher with simple materials will always trump incompetent teachers with computers.

(Follow up blog entry:  What makes a good preschool?)

Homeworks and Tests

My first grade daughter casually told me over dinner that her unit test in Math is tomorrow.  She said that she was ready for it.

I asked her what she thought was challenging. She casually said —subtraction and telling time by quarter hour.  Since I check my daughter’s homework everyday, I know exactly what in subtraction trips her —it isn’t the process of taking away, but solving for the value of x (e.g. X-5 =2). In telling time, she reads 8:45 as 9:45 because the hour hand is closer to the next hour.

So after dinner, I made sample problems.  We sat together; she solved the problems. We were done in 15 minutes.

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I couldn’t help but think about how different the test culture is in her school compared to other schools.  Friends from the Philippines would tell me that when their children have exams, it is as if the parents are taking the exams as well.  The parents do not make plans other than spending countless hours preparing for the exam.

My daughter’s unit test is not even announced to parents, my guess is because the teachers do not want parents to drill their children.

At such a young age, tests are given to check the child’s mastery of the subject matter, and in effect, the teacher’s competency to teach. Cramming and drilling at this age to get a perfect score is just not going to work.

Can you imagine spending the whole day in school and coming home and doing more schoolwork?  What about the downtime?

IMG_0471A quick and simple project made after school

As a lower grade teacher myself, I tell the parents to alert me the moment that they find themselves spending a considerable amount of time teaching their children concepts that I should have taught in class. Because if they do, then it means that I was not effective and therefore, I need to re-teach the subject matter.

Homework that takes 2-3 hours to finish for an elementary school child means a) the child is highly distracted when doing the work and therefore, needs to learn to focus; or b) the child is not understanding the homework, and so the teacher needs to re-teach; or c) the teacher is trying to finish the curriculum and is leaving it up to the parents to complete it for them.

In my opinion, it is the primary responsibility of the teachers to impart the academic concept/skill to the children.  Sure, the parents can reinforce it, but the teaching falls squarely on the teachers’ shoulders.   It is after all, our job!

Audiobooks

When I taught first grade ten years ago, I had a Listening Center in my classroom.  I had a tape deck, 6 earphones, and multiple sets of first grade books in one cozy corner.

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I knew that a struggling reader would benefit from listening to an audio book.  As the story is read aloud, a struggling reader would be able to concentrate on making the story come to life without being bogged down with decoding words.

In a way, an audio book levels the field for all readers because struggling and advanced readers alike can listen together–something that would be impossible to do if an unskilled reader were left to read a challenging book on his own.

My children have listened to numerous audio books—Harry Potter, Percy Jackson series, Magic Tree House, The Inheritance Cycle, the list goes on.  Our very first audiobook was played in the car on our way to Disneyland.

randomhouseaudiobrisingr500The story in our CD deck

Although my children have always been confident readers, I found that listening to audiobooks made them even better readers, not to mention story writers.

My six-year old uses phrases like subtle whisper, frantically searching, and slow pace in her writing. These words I know she picked up from reading because we don’t use these words in our everyday conversation.

Not only does the audiobook help struggling readers, but also widens vocabulary.  My daughter listens and engages her older brother in discussions of books that she may not necessarily read on her own.   She now appreciates books that more savvy readers read.

I was worried that when they discovered audiobooks that they will stop reading on their own.  On the contrary, they developed an even more insatiable appetite to read independently.  Sometimes, they even choose to read books that they have already listened to because they like it so much.

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The best benefit of an audiobook for me is listening with my children.  Since we listen to the story in the car, we have mini book club discussions on our way to school.

I can even use the characters in the stories to stress a point when I am in my mommy-teacher moment like, “Remember, Galbatorix who made bad choices?  Tell me again the consequences of his actions?”

In a nutshell, listening to audio books can:

  1. help improve vocabulary
  2. allow a child to read beyond their reading level
  3. help their creativity in writing
  4. improve the ability to read aloud with expression

Spelling for Kids

When should I correct the spelling?

As a former first grade teacher, I am constantly asked when children’s spelling should be corrected.

My very simple answer is:  if it is a word that your child SHOULD know how to spell correctly, then it should be corrected, otherwise don’t.

If a 4-year child spelled ball, /BL/. I wouldn’t correct it.

If a first grader spelled ball the same way, I would.

If a kindergartner spelled blue, /BLU/.  I would leave it.

If a first grader spelled blue the same way, I would get a blue crayon and show him the label, and then have him correct it.

If a first grader spelled mountain, /MOUNTEN/. I would leave it.

If a third grader spelled it that way, I would point it out and have the child think where he could find the correct spelling for it, or think of another way to spell it.

In my opinion, the important consideration is the manner by which the spelling is corrected.  Pointing out spelling errors as the child is writing could be frustrating.  But, letting the child complete the work while giving him praises for his effort, and then going back to the misspelled words could spell the difference (pun intended).

Example:

The 6-year old child writes in the grocery list:  meetballs

Parent:  I see you spelled meat, M-E-E-T.  You are right, meet is spelled that way.  But that meet means when a group of people gather together to discuss something, like in a meeting.

What other ways can you make the long E sound, like in the word /meat/?

At this point the child can say, add /e/ at the end of the word,  like Pete; or /ea/ like in the word read.

Then, you can write the two ways and ask him which one looks right, or you can simply say that the second one is the correct spelling.

Four, Five, Six, and Seven-year olds are just learning that they can actually put their thoughts into writing.  They can write notes, make lists, and create stories that relay information and contain ideas.  These creative pieces are extensions of themselves.

Interest to write should be encouraged first, and then spelling, grammar and syntax follow next.

As a teacher (as a mom, too) I would rather be handed a piece of writing riddled with misspelled words, than not to have any piece of writing at all because my child is worried that words may not be spelled correctly.

IMG_2377My daughter’s writing at 4

IMG_1775At 5, an advertisement my daughter wrote to teach reading

IMG_2774At the end of Kindergarten (almost 6)

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Spelling is one of the strong suits of children educated in the Philippines.  I think it is because Filipinos read words exactly as they are spelled, without the  American twang.   Spelling is also considered as an important part of the Language Arts block.

WAS is read with a short vowel sound /a/, instead of a short vowel sound /u/.

TRAIN is read as T-R-ain, instead of the American English accent, chrain.

Tagalog spelling is much easier because the spelling rules are simple:  All vowels are read as short vowel sounds and each letter in the word is pronounced except for the digraph /ng/.

leeg (neck)—le-eg

paa (foot)—pa-a

kamay (hand)—ka-may (not May as in the month, but /ma/ like Mama + /y/

bato (stone)–ba-to (short vowel /o/ as in Oscar)

English spelling is definitely more confusing than Tagalog.

Qualities of a Leader

My 8-year old son came to me complaining about his 6-year old sister not wanting to help clean up.  He was very upset because he has put away a lot of things, and the two things that he requested his younger sister to clean up, she wouldn’t.

I inquired if he asked his sister in a nice way.  He muttered under his breath, and then marched to talk to his sister again.

Then I heard him grunt, groan, whine, and command his sister to do what he was demanding her to do.  My daughter ignored him again.

My son stormed back to my bedroom to gripe.  This time I told him that if he wants to be followed, he needed to be a better leader.

A great leader is calm, but assertive (not aggressive). 

I suggested that he talk to her again in a calm voice (since he really did not do it the first time around), and explain why he thinks she should help clean up. (I think I threw in as an example a former teacher that he dislikes because she was, in his words, bossy.)

He went down the stairs again to face his sister, but this time he was much more calm.  I heard him say,

I think you should put these toys away because I already put everything away.  We should help each other clean the house if we want a play date.  Please put these two things back to the bedroom.

Just like a charm, the younger sister did what she was told to do.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I am just grateful that it did that time.  It was 10AM on a Saturday morning, and I really didn’t want to put my book down and get out of bed.

IMG_3919Happily doing a project together

Play Dough

There is something relaxing and satisfying with kneading a ball of clay.  You can pound, squish, roll, poke holes, and pinch it–and when you are done disfiguring it, you can flatten it again and make something beautiful with it.  It is a forgiving material.

Clay (or in this case, dough) interests kids because it is a non-threatening material that does not require special tools to appreciate.  A child can knead and manipulate it for as long as he likes.  It can take whatever form and shape he likes.

Playing with clay is known to improve hand-eye coordination, and strengthen hand and finger muscles–all important building blocks for writing.

Keep in mind though that for a child to be successful, the focus should be on the process, and not the finished product.

Here is the recipe that I use. I like it because it cooks in the microwave.

Play Dough Recipe

2 cups flour

2 cups water

1 cup salt

4 tablespoons oil

4 tablespoons cream of tartar

food color

Put all ingredients in a microwavable bowl.  Mix.  Cook on high in a microwave for 1:30 minutes.  Stir.  Keep on cooking for 30 seconds until you like the consistency–no more than 4 minutes.  If too sticky, sprinkle additional flour.   The oil makes the mixture smooth and malleable.
Do not overcook the dough.

Before putting in the microwave.

I break the whole ball into several small pieces for the children to use.

You want the dough to be soft and pliable.  I use it straight from the microwave when it is still nice and warm.

The color does not stick on the fingers.  My fingers turned blue because I spilled the food color directly on my skin while I was pouring it in the dough mixture.