Feedback From the Fish Tank

Posted December 21, 2022
The fish tank – our humorous classroom barometer of chaos

Feedback From the Fish Tank

By Jen Andrews

In the Winter Room at Inver Glen, with the toddlers, we have a fish tank. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve sometimes found toys at the bottom of it at the end of the day. We’ve jokingly measured the engagement in our class by the number of toys we find in the bottom of the tank. After a long series of no-toy-in-the-fish-tank days, we suddenly had a 3-toy-in-the-tank day. In addition, we were observing some play that wasn’t usual: dumping out toy baskets, running around the classroom, and tossing toys. Sometimes, as the running occurred, by-standing children were being bumped or runners were slipping in their socks. Not only was our play more disorganized than usual, but it was also getting to be unsafe.

I confess I was finding myself being drawn into what I’ve called, “correcting, not redirecting,” meaning I was spending more time than I like saying versions of “no,” and less time finding ways to engage the children in alternatives.

At this time of year, when social calendars fill, when obligations add up, and time feels short, it’s easy (and human) to fall into this pattern at home as well. At school, we have the opportunity to stop, reflect, and problem-solve. We know that when “boredom behaviors” increase, that is feedback; the children are showing us in their own way that something needs to change. We want to harness the power of working with the kids, rather than against them.

As the teachers in the room, when something isn’t working, we take it upon ourselves to look and think again. Sometimes, a simple change to the environment can make a big difference in how the children engage in play. In this particular situation, we took one of the most problematic baskets of toys, the object of a frequent “dump and run” scenario, and modified it. Instead of numerous small vehicles in a basket, we placed about six larger construction vehicles on the low table with a few ramps.

High engagement with a new twist on an old favorite

The change led to even better results than we expected! There were hands on the trucks for almost the entire play session. They were used in concert and individually. There was experimentation with the ramps, and then the trucks began to tour the room in the most interesting ways. They went to the nearby playdough table and were loaded and unloaded a number of times with squishy hauls of dough. Then the vehicles were also driven over to the sensory table to shovel and carry snow. Eventually, they even made it into the loft, where a parking lot was designed. In short, it was a pretty big win! We went from children dumping, yet not playing with items to being engaged and creative for almost an entire hour with one kind of toy used across the entire classroom.

Creative play where there used to be fleeting interest

This was achieved not by instructing the children how they had to play with a certain toy, but by making some small, simple adjustments in what was provided to the children and how it was offered. We went from a “3-toy-in-the-tank-day” back to “no-toys-in-the-tank-days.” The kids and the fish are pretty happy again.

Toys on the outside looking in – to their and the fishes’ delight

Cooking in the Spring Room

Posted December 6, 2022
Cutting zucchini for taste-testing

Cooking in the Spring Room

By Calley Myrvold

Think about the last time you made a meal for someone. Hopefully the food you prepared was appreciated and enjoyed by the ones eating it. When serving that meal, did it make you feel a sense of pride and joy?

This year, the children in the Spring Room at Inver Glen have had many opportunities to cook both new and familiar dishes: baked zucchini, fresh applesauce, and breakfast cookies, to name a few. It’s clear that when children cook these meals and serve them to their peers and teachers, they feel that same sense of pride and joy.

As teachers, we want to give children experiences that they enjoy while at the same time supporting learning. Cooking is a great way for many learning opportunities to come up organically. Cooking offers fine motor practice while children are cutting, pouring and mixing. They practice thinking skills while organizing all of the materials and ingredients to execute the cooking project, and there are plenty of math and literacy opportunities embedded in food preparation.

Adding various toppings to mini-pizzas to enjoy later in the day

Cooking also builds community in the classroom. The children who work hard to organize, peel, chop, measure, pour, and mix also get the pleasure of serving their peers and seeing and hearing their reactions. Most of the time, the children respond with, “Wow! That’s really good. Can I have more?” Sometimes we hear that children don’t enjoy the food that was made, which is okay, but we thank them for trying something new. To further the activity, the teachers will ask the children what they notice about the food they are trying. Is it crunchy? Hard? Sweet or sour? We like to hear what they think of the flavor and texture of the sometimes-new foods they are trying. Using descriptive words expands their expressive language skills, too.

It’s always exhilarating for the teachers to announce that today will be a cooking day. When that announcement is made, the children’s eyes widen and they want to get right to the cooking activity. “Can I help cut food?” or “Can I mix the apples?” or “Can I pour the carrots into the pot?”

There are so many rich learning opportunities when we cook in our classroom. The children are always enthusiastic and curious about preparing and trying new foods. Most of all, cooking at school brings a sense of pride, joy and community for children and teachers alike.

Chopping carrots for “Stone Soup”