From the Preschool Classroom: by Emily LaMothe
When planning our preschool curriculum at King Street Center, we work together as a team and consider a lot of different pieces. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming to include all the ideas, plans, and necessary parts. I have come to think of curriculum planning like cooking. It’s a big recipe with lots of ingredients and steps. Sometimes the recipe comes out perfectly, sometimes you need to tweak it to make it work.
When we plan curriculum, we follow units of study within our Creative Curriculum guidelines, sprinkle in our social emotional curriculum Second Step, consider developmental appropriateness of activities, and create intriguing set ups based on the children’s interests. In addition, each piece of our planning touches on the different learning centers within our classroom. We include literacy, math, science, building/block area, art, sensory play, dramatic play, and all types of learning manipulatives.
This year, COVID-19 plan has added an extra twist to our planning because we must create learning experiences that follow COVID-19 protocols. We have learned that with COVID-19, sometimes planning can feel more complicated or other times it can feel limiting. We try our best to be flexible, get creative and make changes as needed.
One area that has changed in our classroom is our sensory table. Pre COVID-19 you could find a sensory table in nearly any early educational setting. A sensory table is a large bin, almost like a large bath tub on wheels where children can explore together the different materials and textures with their hands, eyes and even sense of smell. They work together to share materials and make observations. They refine their fine motor skills. They explore texture, shape, and smell, sound, gravity and physics. They have fun getting messy.
Our classroom sensory table was always a very popular area. Most days you could observe 3 – 4 children practicing pouring water into funnels with cups, dumping sand down a cardboard tunnel, pinching small pipettes of water colors onto mounds of snow, squishing cloud dough or slime between their fingers, hiding toy animals in handmade habitats, searching for small foam letters and numbers hidden within mounds of shredded paper. However, with COVID-19, our beloved sensory tables simply had to be stored away.
To adapt, we now have individual plastic shoeboxes for each student. We are able to use many of the same materials and allow the children that important sensory play time throughout the week. We have created a sensory play situation that is individual and still possible.
One thing we have learned is that by having individual sensory bins, the children now have a sense of autonomy going through the process of actually making their own sensory bin. Instead of coming into the classroom each week with a new community sensory bin filled and ready to go, we now lay out the supplies and let the children assemble their own bins.
With winter upon us, we wanted to provide a wintery sensory bin. We were inspired by an online photo of an elaborate snow sensory bin using salt, glitter, woodland animals, mini wooden snowflakes, mini wooden scoops and rakes. It was a beautiful photo. A piece of art, really. We looked around at what we had collected. It didn’t seem nearly as exciting. We had boxes of salt, glitter shakers, plastic spoons and reused cardboard strawberry containers to use as sifters. Rosie, one of the other classroom teachers and I went back and forth of what we could add to the experience to make it more appealing. I think we both wanted to offer an experience like the photo.
We didn’t come up with any ideas of what to add to the bins so that morning I set out our supplies. Honestly, it looked a little bare and we wondered if there would be any interest in the activity.
As children arrived that morning they were invited to put together a winter salt box. They found their own box labeled with their name and photo, then on their own they poured, scooped and measured salt into their bins. They chose which colors of glitter to shake in and even how many shakes of glitter to add. They followed the instructions to choose a spoon and sifter to the bin. And finally, they sat down at their tables to explore their sensory bin. It was a quiet, focused time as they each took the time to make and explore their bins.
At one point during play, there was a big spill of glitter and salt. With no need for teacher intervention, a pair of children gathered the broom and dust pan and worked together to clean up the mess.
Just this simple activity allowed for measuring, pouring, exploring texture, sharing and finally working together to solve a problem. Reminding us that even though our curriculum planning may feel like a complicated recipe at times, sometimes the simplest recipes with just a few ingredients have amazing results!