Getting away from weekly themes

Discussion in 'Preschool' started by DiscoveringMe, Nov 19, 2013.

  1. DiscoveringMe

    DiscoveringMe Rookie

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    Nov 19, 2013

    Hello! I'm a newbie here, and to the world of teaching. I've searched the archives but so far have not found exactly what I'm looking for.

    I teach two classes in a play-based, cooperative preschool (3's and 4's). There is one other teacher who created a weekly theme calendar that I follow for the most part. It seemed easiest to just follow along so we could share books, craft ideas, etc. However, now that I have been teaching since September, I'm filled with discontent over the "weekly theme" format and the daily class schedule in general. Most days, the kids play fantastically during the "free play" time, and I really hate to ring the clean-up bell and struggle to get everyone sitting for circle then line up for recess... Morning circle is usually fine -- I can read a book or sing or do the calendar -- but other gathering times and lining up times are tough. And I hate feeling so rushed to create curriculum on a new topic each week. I barely scratch the surface, then it's time to move on. Ocean animals? Really? One week? For my three-year-olds that only two days!! :|

    So... I've been learning bits and pieces about emergent curriculum and project based learning, and it sounds wonderful. The kids regularly get very engaged in something during free time, and I'd love to just let them continue! Do we -need- a second or third circle time? If not, how do I transition from free play to recess (which most definitely -is- needed at some point)?

    I'm thinking of changing formats after winter break, but I don't know if I should try it with one class first, ask the school board what they think first, talk to the other teacher first...? I don't think I have enough knowledge about emergent/project-based to pitch the idea to the school yet, so if anyone has suggestions, resources, books... I want to learn more! I think I'm free to structure the day how I choose, but would like input on how the day -should- be structured.

    I'm sorry for the random thoughts and no clear question. I'm just feeling very disenchanted with the way things are now and want to change, but don't know how. I appreciate any direction you can offer!
     
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  3. Blue

    Blue Aficionado

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    Nov 19, 2013

    Yea!!! Professional ECEers don't rely upon cutesy themes to carry the curriculum. If you have a degree in ECE you will learn that the real curriculum is "Pre-math, pre-reading, etc." The cutesy curriculum simply is a vehicle to hang the real curriculum on. You might read about Head Start outcomes to define themes. If you need more help, ask.
     
  4. DiscoveringMe

    DiscoveringMe Rookie

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    Nov 19, 2013

    Thank you, Blue. I do not have any ECE experience. I'm just a few classes away from completing my masters in child development (psychology). Can you recommend an ECE book to get me started? I'm well-versed in play based learning, but aside from my own kids' experience in a co-op and the past couple months in my own classroom, I don't have any other model to follow.
     
  5. Blue

    Blue Aficionado

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    Nov 20, 2013

    Your child development degree should be enough to teach you how children learn. Children learn by play, and do not learn from worksheets or drills.
    The gurus of ECE are Reggio, Gerber, and Montessori. (I do not care for Gerber.) Reggio used the project approach, like you would like to use. There are books on emergent curriculum.
    First, you need to define the concepts you want to teach. Take a look at Head Start's outcomes. It will list items like Reading and give you a breakdown of what that is. Any ECE textbook should help you out. I like Catherine Reed. I am happy to help. Please ask and A to Z will be glad to give you a hand.
     
  6. scmom

    scmom Enthusiast

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    Nov 20, 2013

    Well, congratulations on being a thoughtful, reflective teacher.

    First of all, a switch to this type of format is generally a school, not a teacher decision. It would be rare for a teacher to be able to go against the philosophy and structure that the school supports. Y.ou would need to discuss this with your director/principal before you proceed.

    I am lucky enough to work for a program that lets us structure our classes as we wish, and I am Reggio influenced and as emergent as I can be considering everything. I would like to go more in that direction, but it is difficult on your own.

    I think children do thrive with some structure, and I do have a schedule, but I call it the "Flow of the Day" and I am not rigid sticking to certain times. If they are having fun, etc. I will let it continue or skip certain parts of the day if the children agree that is what they do. This is difficult to do for some people, or at some schools where you have to be on the playground at a certain time, etc.

    I never post themes and just kind of roll through the year based on what interests them (or me and I know they will like). For example, at the beginning of the year, before I know them well, I base the curriculum on favorite books which they bring in for us to read. This is easier for a seasoned teacher like me because I have a lot of stuff and ideas. It would be harder for a new teacher because you don't have the same tools. It is a lot of work, but very rewarding because the blossom doing things they are interested in doing.

    For those who worry about standards, it is easy to fit them into whatever you are doing.

    You can look at Pinterest and search for Reggio and find several great boards for ideas. Off to work....
     
  7. Blue

    Blue Aficionado

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    Nov 21, 2013

    scmom, I also used the flow of the day. I find it easy to follow a school's themes and relate conceptual themes to them. I believe that schools that use cutesy themes without regard to concepts usually do not have much ECE education.

    I have looked at many states to compare PS curriculums, and most states have something in place. Many professions use the Head Start outcomes and goals as a guide.
     
  8. scmom

    scmom Enthusiast

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    Nov 21, 2013

    I think some problems with the way many schools use themes are:

    -They think if they read a book about the theme and do a craft related to it they are doing the theme.

    -The crafts are product-oriented instead of process-oriented.

    -They don't really do much learning about the subject. It is very shallow learning.

    -In many schools everyone is doing the same theme andthey do them year after year whether anyone is interested or not.

    -It is all teacher directed, not student led and often have no relationship to what the children want to learn.

    -It all ends on Friday so the next theme can roll around, even when the kids are super interested.

    -The themes often have nothing to do with each other - there is no natural progression.
     
  9. jbrinkm

    jbrinkm Companion

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    Nov 21, 2013

    We do long-term (minimum 6-weeks) studies of tangible, cross-cultural objects (rocks, ants, trees, flowers, boxes, garbage, chairs, etc). This is through Creative Curriculum but you could do it on your own easily. You pick a study theme and it becomes the foundation for everything else you teach (rhyming, letters, literature, counting, scientific inquiry).

    I LOVE teaching this way. My students leave with such a thorough understanding of what we studied and they are exposed to so many concepts through just the one main topic. I end up usually only doing 2 studies a year; I try to do one life science study and one physical science study. Now we are doing trees, started in October and will probably go until February. Then we will do something to "celebrate" and move onto the next study.

    I encourage you to look into it! I find it much more fulfilling than weekly themes.
     
  10. Blue

    Blue Aficionado

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    Nov 21, 2013

    scmom--exactly. Since PS pay is generally low, degreed people usually choose to work elsewhere.
    Jbrink--it sounds like you have taken themes and concepts and married them. Good job.
     
  11. DiscoveringMe

    DiscoveringMe Rookie

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    Nov 21, 2013

    Thank you, all, for your input. As a cooperative preschool we have no principal or director so I can structure my classes however I want as long as it's play-based, and I can explain to the parents how their kids are still learning (building the foundation for what comes next). It always surprises me how many families enroll their child in a play-based co-op, then demand to know why I didn't do any counting or letter activity during circle time that day. Ugh! That's a rant for another post. :)

    Anyway, I was thinking about ditching the weekly themes and instead picking a new topic at the beginning of each month and see where that leads us. At the beginning of the year I had parents fill out a questionnaire that asked what their child's interests are, but I haven't done anything with that information, and that makes me sad. As I've gotten to know the kids, I've learned the passions of some, and I would love, love, LOVE to indulge in those! I have two rooms that I share with two other classes (we meet mornings, they meet afternoons) so physically large projects aren't really doable in the current setup, but there should be plenty of smaller things we can work on.

    While the Creative Curriculum and two themes per year that jbrinkm uses sound wonderful, I think that would be too drastic a change for my school right off the bat. I'm hoping to gradually ease away from the weekly theme format. Has anyone read "Working in the Reggio way: A Beginner's Guide for American Teachers?" I thought it might help me find my way...

    Thanks again!
     
  12. WaProvider

    WaProvider Fanatic

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    Nov 21, 2013

    Blue and Scmom.....I have a degree in Psychology and a emphasis in child development! It was great insight into what they kids needed! Discoveringme....you will do fine. Many of the leaders are folks you already talked about in school.....Piaget, Montessori and all the rest.

    Discoveringme.....I would say start weaning them off the themes don't just ditch full boar. In my opinion kids and grown ups have forgotten how to pretend and think, so if you go totally off book they might be resistant. Let the new theme decorate your area. Let it dictate what you thinking about while you work on language development and what not. Then, sit in what is now circle and may soon be morning meeting and ask "what do you know about....topic x" and then "what do you want to know about topic x".

    These are your jumping off points. Watching how the kids talk to each other and work together will let you know how to present each item.

    Scmom and Blue are great.....I moved into public school and not in Ece....I miss them and they probably miss me. You will fit in well with this crowd.
     
  13. Blue

    Blue Aficionado

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    Nov 21, 2013

    Wa--you always sum up the discussion so well.
     

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