It Not "Just Recess" Anymore!

Teachers often heave a sigh of relief when they take their students out to recess. Finally! The children can burn off the pent up energy they had been accruing for the past few hours indoors. But what if we change our outlook on outdoor play time? What if we create an outdoor environment that offered all of the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors? What if children could run out to a well-planned play yard to find experiences in math, science, nature, dramatic play, water, building and construction, sensory activities, physical development, art and music? What if they play yard developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills? The result would be that we wouldn't have "just recess" anymore. We would have The Outdoor Classroom!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Building DOWN with PVC

We have been working with PVC pipes for some time now. The kids always enjoy them and they have made some very creative structures with the shorter sections of pipe (6-24 inches). This week I brought out the 24 - 36 inch pipes. At the beginning, the children were excited that they could connect 2 pipes together and touch the roof. I, on the other hand, wasn't quite as excited about that option since the pieces were liable to disconnect and fall on a head (okay...DID fall on a head!). My clever coworker decided to work with the children's desire for height by hanging the pipes from the existing rope that was strung from our patio overhang.

The experience for building DOWN rather than UP was intriguing to the kids. It took effort not to yank the hanging pieces while pushing in new pipes. The structures became all sorts of things and their creativity expanded as they had to think on a whole new plane. This was such as success, that my coworker and I are now trying to think of other items that could be built down, around or sideways! We have thought of lego boards on a easel, Zoobs hanging from ropes, but what else? Any ideas??

Here are some of the experiences we had with the PVC:

The finished "product" - Even Mopsy the bunny came to check it out!

Hard hats are recommended!

Much discussion took place as the children worked their way through the new building 'arrangement.'

The structure grew so large that extensions were laid flat on the ground.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Swamp Sensory Bin

I have been eyeing Tom's "Swamp" sensory event at Sand & Water Tables for some time. If you haven't visited Tom's site, it is well worth a look-see. His sensory tables are phenomenal!

I finally put in the effort to create a similar table on our patio area. I used a 3 separate sensory/water tables for this project to add depth, dimension and varying levels. I added swamp creatures, sand, leaves, and various other natural items to the bins. I also used bamboo garden poles for the bugs to "crawl" on. Each day, I add water to the swamp for added sensory fun. It is a bit of a mess, so the event will probably move to the yard next week, but it has drawn a lot of attention thus far!

Here is what I came up with...

Catching creatures in bug containers filled with swamp water.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dramatic Play Outdoors - Air Traffic Control

Our Jr. Kindergarten class is currently VERY interested in making paper airplanes. We can barely keep our writing center stocked with enough paper to keep up their airplane making endeavors! Since we run on an "emergent" curriculum, I decided to support their interests with an "Air Traffic Control" dramatic play center....and what fun it has been!

The idea was for the children to pretend they are controlling the airport activities, so I set out earphones, walkie-talkies, old phones, keyboards and some old laptops.

I also made an air traffic control wand out of colored tape wrapped on PVC so the children could direct the planes. And of course, I set out an entire bin of sturdy paper airplanes. On the ground, I designed a numbered runway out of colored tape. The numbers were so the children could measure how far their plane flew.

To incorporate math and literacy, I made a chart for children to write down their names and the distance their plane flew. Clipboards made this activity even more appealing.

As another added component to spark literacy, I posted photos with sentences about airports, maps, and photos of tickets and passports. I also posted some idea started and songs for the teachers to use to engage and spark interest. In the writing center, we stocked the bins with paper to make passports, tickets, airplanes, and anything else the children could think of!

Next week, we plan to transform this area into a passenger airport. To prepare, the children are painting a large box (to be made into a plane), and I've laminated some printed airline tickets and passports for the children to use on their voyage. I'll also add some old luggage, chairs for the plane, and ??? Any ideas????

 Check back next week for more photos of our airport!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Arctic Animal Excavations, Gak, a Pots and Pans Band, and More!

The holidays have past and the children are back into full swing at school. So, it is time to keep up with the post-holiday energy by adding some great new activities to the Outdoor Classroom.

Arctic Animal Excavation (Science, Sensory, Fine Motor) -

In the spirit of winter, we provided an "Arctic Animal Excavation" station. I placed a few arctic animals in 3 separate bowls and put them in the freezer overnight.

Each morning, I popped out the frozen animals and placed them in the sensory bins. I then added a few new animals to the bowls, refilled with water, and set them into the freezer for the next day.

Armed with goggles (this is a must due to flying ice!), child-sized hammers, and golf tees "nails", the children excavated the animals from their ice bergs.

The older children really took a fancy to this activity and they pounded the ice with great gusto (hence the goggles!). Once the animals were excavated, the ice melted throughout the morning and made a nice arctic animal mini-world play area.

Since I haven't blogged in oh-so-long, here are a few other things going on this week.

Gak -
This is a super sensory experience as Gak is very similar to the gooey slime that you can purchase in stores. I used 1 part white school glue to 1 part liquid starch. I also added a touch of liquid water color.

Simply mix with a spoon (or your hands!) until the mixture is combined. Mine started out a bit like stringy spaghetti, but after sitting for a bit, it all came together perfectly.

By the way, do you know that you can blow bubbles by sticking the end of a straw into the Gak??? Fun!

For a translucent effect, use clear glue and liquid water color. This mixture has a slightly softer texture. For those of you with a bit of potty humor, put the mix in a cup and squish it down...oh the sounds it does make! ;-) heehee!

Home-made Drum Band-
This was a super-simple, but oh-so-pleasing activity for the kids. The music area in our playground sits within 100 feet of one of our upper elementary buildings, so we are always cautious not to make too much noise. However, while the elementary students were on break, we take advantage of our right to make some noise!

And what better noise than a Pots N' Pans band? We set out pots, pans, oatmeal containers, buckets, wooden spoons and drums sticks.

The students, and even a few enthusiastic teachers, had a great time making "music."

 A few girls put the materials to another use...they were making "soup" instead of music :-).

Snowy Easel -
Another super-easy, but oh-so-pleasing sensory activity...shaving cream on the easel!

Colored Tape Art-
Several weeks ago, the children worked with black electrical tape to create works of art inspired by Piet  Mondrian. This week, I stumbled upon this TERRIFIC colored tape dispenser filled with rolls of colored masking tape. I set out paper and the tape and the children created art filled with unique lines and designs.