Preschool Art Education

rocky_steps

For the past few weeks, my four-year-old has been asking us to take him to the Art Museum. He was anxious for us to see something he experienced on a preschool class trip. So for pay-what-you-wish Sunday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), we took the kids to see the Japanese Tea House that my son visited as part of the Museum Looks and Picture Books program with his school. Through this program, the children read a book, explore art that relates to the book, and then create an art project on that theme. It’s one of many ways that the PMA engages young children and helps them become familiar with the museum and the art within it.

Over the past few months, we have been visiting and interviewing at a variety of kindergartens in the city. While they were all in Center City, their utilization of the city resources varied widely. Some took field trips similar to my son’s preschool while others brought city cultural groups into their schools to minimize travel. At one particular school though, I asked if the preschool and kindergarten classes went on any excursions and the admissions director told me the children “were too young to go on trips as far as the museums.” As I chaperoned the next preschool PMA trip I thought about this comment and chuckled at the thirty preschoolers sitting beside me on a SEPTA bus. Maybe they are too young to ride a school bus and maybe there are risks to escorting such young children across town on a public bus, but multiple times per year our preschool makes this trip because the benefits of exposing them to art and beginning their journey in art education are important even for these young students.

Tuesdays With Mommy: By myself

March 4 2015 518

Although I work full-time, I have configured my schedule so that I have one full weekday home with my children. Initially I spent this day each week with my son, and now that he is older and off at school, I spend it with my daughter. I love the one-on-one time that this affords us and we always have a great time exploring activities on our own. Whereas she is typically dragged along to events that are geared toward older children, so as not to bore my 4-year-old, these days are completely focused on her interests and developmental level.

What of my developmental level though? As a full-time working mom, I spend my days going from mom to doctor to mom with no break for myself. Often my downtime comes at 9 PM when I am too exhausted to drag out a hobby, exercise, or read. Furthermore, this is not a time of day when I can get errands accomplished or simply walk about the neighborhood.

So every now and then, I send both of my children to school on a Tuesday and guiltily indulge my own interests. Typically this is prompted by necessity, such as a work meeting or conference call that I need to attend for a portion of the day. This commitment may be the impetus, but really it becomes my excuse. These days are the perfect time for me to schedule doctor’s appointments, hair cuts, and shop for birthday presents. As much as I tend to cram my day with such obligations and feel accomplished in checking them off my to-do lists, there are a few other simple things that I relish about these days and make sure to include in some form:

– walking with no purpose and not worrying that at any moment someone may boycott their stroller or throw themselves to the sidewalk kicking and screaming.

– a phone call with a friend that ends organically and not due to nagging children.

– a long, hot, uninterrupted shower without having to peek my head out every few minutes to listen for sounds of mischief.

– leisurely browsing in a store. Instead of worrying whether someone is breaking something or rushing to grab items off the rack and running to the register, I can stroll and ponder and flip through the racks with ease.

I do love my children and the time I spend with them, but the rare days that I get to spend alone are blissful reminders of who I am without them. Besides spending my time picking up Legos and sorting clothing, I can focus on things that I enjoy and pour some energy into caring for myself so that I can care better for them. Tuesdays with mommy are mostly for the children, but every now and then, it is for me.

 

The Working Mom Ponytail Dilemma

ponytail

Shortly after my daughter turned one, I realized that she finally had enough hair to pull up into a ponytail. However, I only realized this after my husband texted me a photo while at work of a tiny spray of hair sprouting from the top of her head, fastened by a difficult-to-remove elastic by one of her daycare teachers. Seeing this prompted me to both smile at how beautiful she looked with her hair swept back and yet sigh that I was not the one to style it.

By the time she started getting her hair done at school, I should have had hair elastics or bows at home, but that level of toddler maintenance was not yet on my radar. After raising a boy with a short cut, my daughter’s long locks were new to me. So I quickly swung by the hair accessories aisle at Target and bought a variety of clips, bows, headbands, and elastics, so that I could be the one to style her.

However, while her teachers accomplish elaborate braids, she fights me through the simplest pigtails. I know that she enjoys having her hair styled with her friends, so I don’t take it personally that our attempts to recreate these styles at home often fail. However, I bought a book of Disney Frozen Hairstyles, as she often asks for an “Elsa braid,” in hopes that this would be something we can bond over as she, and her hair, continues to grow.

As a working mom, it is sometimes a feat to get my children to school clean, dressed, and with lunch boxes in hand, nevertheless  with accessories or hair styles in place. After I realized that the daycare teachers were not doing her hair to send me a message that it should be styled, but rather that they did the hair of all the children as a form of play during the day, I stopped feeling inadequate every time she came home with a ponytail or braid. She enjoyed showing off her ‘do each day and I looked forward to seeing what they were able to accomplish with the little hair she had.

Yet each time I saw her little fountain of hair, feelings of longing poured forth. This simple ponytail represented another of her firsts that I would miss while working. I am sure I missed the first roll, unsupported sit, and maybe even step, although I never counted the ones that I couldn’t see while she was at daycare. But here in front of my face was a ponytail that said, your baby is growing up and you missed it. While you were busy working, we started doing her hair.

I know that while I may have missed her first ponytail, we will have so many more together to come. I am thankful that she has teachers who love her enough to groom her in a motherly way and that she is secure enough to receive love from the village that raises her. I love that with each ponytail she smiles a little bigger and my baby takes another step towards being a big girl. And despite all of this, as I untangle those fierce little elastics that rip at her fine, blonde hair, they also tug at my heart as symbols of the things that I sometimes miss. Then the next morning, with a bit of working mom ambivalence, I send her off to school with wild tresses grateful that others will tame them for me.

Family Game Night

Nerd alert: I love family game night. So you can imagine how excited I am that my children are getting old enough to play board games with me. We started with the classics and incorporated some new games that friends have shared with us. We are keeping our repertoire small though so that we can work on practicing the games we have before trying too many different kinds. I am excited about revisiting some of the classics from my childhood and sharing those memories with my kids.

Beyond enjoying a low-tech, at-home evening with my children, I look to these games to help teach them a few lessons. Initially, playing a game was mostly an exercise in patience, where I focused on getting my then 3-year-old to take turns and follow rules. Typically he yells “I want to win,” before we even start. So he has learned to delay gratification and to follow through with a game despite setbacks (i.e. sliding down a chute in Chutes and Ladders). Then, we were able to focus on some of the lessons inherent to playing the games, such as numbers, counting, colors, and shapes. Furthermore, many of these games challenged his eye-hand coordination and dexterity, whether that is inserting a disc into the Connect Four framework, moving a game piece precisely onto a square, or manipulating a “bone” out of the Operation man. I try not to make the whole game into a lesson or lecture though because I still want it to be fun!

A few minutes into our first game I realized that I needed to take a parental stance on winning. Do I let my preschooler win? Do I allow him a little cheating to win? Do I teach him that you do not always win and how to cope with losing? Ultimately I decided that since my children are still young (2 and 4 years currently), they do not need to play games strictly by the rules and should win more often than not. So, if my son needs to spin a 4 to win and he decides to take a few spins to get that outcome, it’s ok. If he miscounts the squares that his piece moves so that he happens to land on the finish line, then so be it. However, I usually win at least one of the games each night. I think it is important that they see that they do not always win and that they learn to cope with the feelings that come with losing. We do not dwell on it though and end things on a positive note.

During rainy days and cold, dark Winter evenings, board games are our favorite ways to have quality family time at home. If you are looking for inspiration, here’s what we are playing:

Connect Four

Operation

Candy Land

Chutes and Ladders

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Let’s Go Fishing

Memory

Operation

Scholarly articles on this topic:

Ramani, G. B. and Siegler, R. S. (2008), Promoting Broad and Stable Improvements in Low-Income Children’s Numerical Knowledge Through Playing Number Board Games. Child Development, 79: 375–394. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18366429

Siegler, Robert S.; Ramani, Geetha B. (2009), Playing linear number board games—but not circular ones—improves low-income preschoolers’ numerical understanding.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3): 545-560. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0014239
Whyte, J.C. and Bull, R. (2008), Number games, magnitude representation, and basic number skills in preschoolers. Dev Pscyhol, 44(2): 588-96.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037

[I have no affiliation with the above articles, games or their makers. All opinions are my own.]

 

 

City Kids in the Woods

My son points to a wooded area about 50 feet away from an elementary school playground in Vermont and asks, “if that’s the woods, are there wolves in there?”. As a city kid, his exposure to the woods to date includes hiking in the Wissahickon and Anna and Kristoff running from wolves in the Arendelle forest in the Disney movie Frozen. My family in Vermont therefore enjoyed bringing their “city-slicker” relatives for hikes and all of the comical comments that those adventures brought from my two little urbanites.

hiking

Over our recent holiday break, we traveled to Vermont to visit family and while there we explored the Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert, Vermont. While we often visit local Philadelphia farms, we have not visited a large-scale forest and farm where the primary purpose is educating the public about sustainable farming and not tourism. There is no admission fee and guests can simply park and explore on their own or stop in the visitor’s center to get information about how the land is used.

horse

My kids enjoyed meeting a pig and horse up close and then hiking through the forest. While they have done these things before, there was something majestic about a quiet, peaceful farm atop a mountain that was unlike other farm trips we have had. While our first visit was intended to be a quick way to tire the kids out before the six-hour car ride home, we will definitely return to learn more about this precious resource.

farm

Driving home from Vermont I reflected on how fortunate my children are to have grandparents that live in varying environments from our own: the mountains, the beach, and the tropics. They talk about how there are moose by Nana’s house, dolphins by Grandma’s, and alligators by Grandpa’s. And yet my 4-year-old says his favorite animal is a pigeon. Less than 24 hours from returning to Philadelphia, my 2-year-old shouted “I want museum” and we were in our own backyard adventure, the Franklin Institute. What our home environment lacks in fresh air and furry animals, it makes up for in culture. We are grateful for the balance that our family network provides to our children’s developing sense of the world, but plan to stay planted in the concrete jungle of Philadelphia, pigeons and all.

 

Places to expose your city kids to nature near Philadelphia:

Arboretums & Gardens:

Morris Arboretum

Bartram’s Garden

Longwood Gardens

Awbury Arboretum

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve

Chanticleer

Fairmount Park Horticulture Center

Tyler Arboretum

Waterfront & Fishing:

Race Street Pier

Pier 68

Washington Avenue Pier

Parks Beyond the City:

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Binky Lee Preserve

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Educational Centers:

Schulykill Center for Environmental Education

Riverbend Environmental Education Center

Farms:

Peace Valley Lavender Farm

Greensgrow Farms

Linvilla Orchards

Wyck House Farm

 

For many more ideas, visit: http://www.visitphilly.com/outdoor-activities/nature-parks-and-gardens/

 

[I have no affiliation with any of the above organizations and I am not responsible for the content of external links. All opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this post.]

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