Teachers involved: Florencia González de León and Carola Chevallier Boutell
5 year old morning teachers at Punta Chica
Groups involved: Spiders and Bumblebees (5A and 5B), 23 and 25 children in each group.
“Looking into Developmentally Appropriate Practice for young children, one discovers that how we teach should go hand in hand with how children learn.
At this stage, teachers are facilitators who prepare stimulating environments and tasks with challenging and interesting activities for their pupils.
The activities proposed in the Work Stations are chosen carefully taking into account a meaningful context, which will stimulate our pupils´ motivation. If motivated they will persist with a task. The children are provided with choice, they work in small groups, with closer attention to certain stations that require it.
There is a marked move from structures, teacher directed lessons where children are expected to sit down, watch and hopefully be called on to participate.”
Miss Corinne Munck
Punta Chica Kindergarten Headmistress
How did all this begin?
As K5 teachers we began to feel overwhelmed by the amount of concepts we had to work on with the children. We had to teach them: Maths , Literacy, a second language, Science, Art, Social Studies, Fine Motor Coordination Skills… and, of course, we didn’t want to forget they were 5 year olds and needed to play and have fun. And, as if all of those weren’t enough, of course they needed to learn how to become independent and self-disciplined.
In our professional development courses we always observed American and English videos and conferences, and it called our attention to see how well behaved and independent children were when working in their classrooms. And, most of all, they looked happy and engaged in their learning activities.
As we observed that they worked in all small groups, we had the hypothesis that this influenced directly on their behaviour and learning skills.
We could relate this to Neuroscience, where it has been discovered that children learn better when they are engaged in what they are doing and have to remain focused for short periods of time. This can only happen when you work in small groups, giving them the attention they need, as well as stimuli according to their needs and levels. The teacher’s personal attention and support, not only affects their working habits, but they feel important and cared. And this makes happier children, and, of course, happier children learn better and more.
How could we do this in a fun and organized way, where everybody gets what they need in their learning process, as well as in their personal development?
And this is how our Work Stations started…
Let us introduce the works stations
It is a “method” we created taking into an account both the children and the school needs.
The child’s need of play, social interaction, independence, develop self-confidence, being engaged, or “hands on” their learning, activities graded according to their strengths and weaknesses, in an engaging setting that allowed them to have fun.
The school has other needs, which we thought sometimes were antagonistic to the ones mentioned above: reaching the objectives we had come to an agreement with primary, introducing them in their first Maths concepts, learning Letters and sounds, Fine motor Coordination Skills they will need for writing….and, of course, a second language.
Are work stations and centres the same?
We already had Centres where they mainly played with different materials and practiced different skills (Blocks, Puzzles, Art techniques,Drama). The Maths, Literacy, Language, and Fine motor Coordination skills were worked as whole group activities.
As we have mentioned above, we had lots of things to work on, and we did not have the time to give each subject, or what is worse, each child, the attention they needed to develop.
That is why we decided to put everything together and try to use our time in a more productive way.
It was time to introduce our Work Stations, a new way of looking at our mornings in the Kindergarten
Setting our objectives
We had this main question to answer: How could we do this in a fun and organized way, where everybody gets what they need in their learning process as well as in their personal development?
- Fun activities, where all the children are involved in different learning processes at the same time (one of the PIES of Cooperative Learning)
- Reduce the amount of whole group activities, specially related to Maths, Fine Motor Coordination, Literacy and Language.
- Increase the amount of creative and free play periods, such as Art activities, Blocks and Dramatic play.
- Clear and conscientious planning and preparation of the different activities proposed, where we take into account the needs of the group, as well as particular needs of each child and, of course, not forgetting the school objectives.
Is it very hard to plan in this way?
Not at all, it is very easy once you get used to it. We plan all the stations at the same time, but we don’t put them all into practice the same day. We present the amount of stations we can attend, according to the amount of children, and teachers in the classroom each day.
The stations we work on are:
Fine motor coordination
Sharing daily activities
Here you fill find one of our weekly plans:
When the teachers get together to plan they focus on what objectives they would like to achieve with their students.
When we plan we think of groups of no more than 5-6 children, where they are working at the same time, having not more than 2 groups needing teacher’s attention. The first five mentioned stations need teacher’s supervision, the other groups can work independently after receiving directions.
How do we put this into practice?
We play at Work Stations 4 times a week.
The teacher sets up the 5 Work Stations, or more, depending on their needs. In each station there is a slip of paper with a list of their names, and they need to make a cross beside their name when they go to play there, so as for them to be aware of where they have played, and where they still need to go.
The teacher gives the instructions for each station and invites the children to choose where they want to play. She also indicates some of the children where to go if they still need to go to a station, or if she needs to play with them at a specific station. The children usually choose what they like best first. The idea is for them to become independent learners, and to be responsible of their choice. That is why they make a cross beside their name before they start playing. They can change places whenever they want to, as long as there are no more than 5 children in the station where they want to go. Everybody needs to go to every station before that station is closed and we open a new one. Although they sometimes don’t want to go, with their teachers’ encouragement, they get involved in activities they wouldn’t have chosen. This gives them the possibility of exploring and getting to know different play options.
Many times, talking to other teachers, they have asked us if we don’t consider unfriendly that the children are “forced” to play with something they don’t really like at first. But our experience shows us, that far from being unfriendly, it is completely enriching as they realize that they can have fun with options they had never thought of.
If they have to wait to go to their favourite station, or if they get engaged in an activity and they are called by the teacher to participate in one of the work stations with them, they know that eventually they will be able to go back. As the children go getting used to this way of working, they don’t get frustrated, because they know that they will play in every station before the teachers change the station activity.
While playing in stations it is fascinating to see them all engaged and enthused, hands on!!
The play station sessions last for almost fourty minutes, depending on how engaged they are and our timetable. During each session they are usually able to go to at least two stations . When it’s time to put away, they first tidy the station where they have finished playing, and when their station is done, and if it is necessary, they can help tidying up another station.
Once the classroom is in order, we all sit in a circle and share what we have done. Some of the questions we reflect on is if they enjoyed it, had some difficulty, and they can show others what they have done (a construction they have built, an art work, etc.)
It is very easy to associate fun and playful activities when we think of blocks, or the drama station, but our challenge was to come up with engaging activities for Maths, Literacy, Language and Fine Motor coordination, because our idea was to work in small groups to keep a close supervision on each child’s development on these areas. This would help us to plan future activities, keep a record on their improvement, and when the time comes to write report cards we have a more detailed record of each child’s development.
Ccan we add any other station?
Certainly yes !!! You can add as many Stations as you consider necessary, and, of course, you feel you can handle. As far as the children are receiving the attention they need for each activity, it is ok.
For example in our kinder, the children work on science projects with the afternoon teachers. If they happened to need help to work on some experiment or concept, we can add a Science Station and work on it just for some time.
The sharing daily activities was started as a need of one of the groups. The children were having a very tough time to sit down and pay attention through daily routine activities as calendars, assistance, sharing news, etc. So we came up with the idea that they could share all this in a small group. They got to write the number date on a white board while one did it on the class calendar, they all did Maths when registering how many children where at school or had stayed at home, wrote the names of the absent children, and were able to share news while the small group was listening. This gave us the opportunity of sharing how they were feeling, asking questions to our friends, etc.
If we finish a station, we immediately open a new one, so that everybody is participating in an enriching activity. Depending on the required time, a station should be opened for no more than two or three days.
A closer look to what happens in each station
- FINE MOTOR COORDINATION: although we have a short fine motor coordination booklet with traditional tracing patterns, which is good for their writing patterns development, we also offer them a variety of fun activities as threading, beading, simple origami foldings, games where they have to pick up small balls with pegs, etc… This has really helped them feel more confident with their fine motor coordination skills, such as cutting, tracing, colouring and writing.
- LANGUAGE: Our main idea to introduce this station was because we thought children would benefit and feel more engaged when participating in a small group,with meaningful and fun activities. Some of the activities we have proposed were:
- Bingos and memory games where we drilled vocabulary
- Action games with cards. Sometimes they had to represent the action as they go internalizing the word in English, and other times, were they had to dramatize without using words for their friends to guess what they were doing (Dígalo con mimíca)
- Adjective games with cards, where we tried to encourage them to make short full sentences with the vocabulary they have been l learning up to the moment. This also gave us the opportunity to work on opposites.
- Create dialogues/stories, sometimes using the vocabulary of the play projects worked at the moment. The dialogue created would later be represented to the class during the evaluation moment.This also would benefit their ability when playing at the dramatic station, giving them script ideas when they chose that station.Here we are rehearsing what they have to say in English on their Graduation day
- DRAMA: Although we have whole group play periods, we can also use the props we have prepared for them in stations. They can use the dramatic play props or whatever they find that can help them create their dramatic play situation. During the evaluation we encourage them to retell the situation they have played.
- LITERACY: We started the year by engaging in activities to exercise their listening skills, as for example going to the field to listen to the different sounds, or hiding a music device in the classroom which they had to find, working with rhyming activities, robot talking to divide words in syllables as well as phonemes, etc. Each week we introduced a letter sound with the group divided in 2, and every literacy activities which followed in the work stations was thought for them to practice the letter sounds learnt, specially the initial sounds. We prepared bingos, memory games, stampings of letters, making our own letter sound book, IPAD activities. Our idea for next year is to prepare more things for our play projects where they need to write in context, for example the signs for the hospital
- MATHS: We are always trying to create real life problems for the children to solve. Some of them we do them on paper, the other ones as a game of cards or concrete materials. Some ideas that we have done this year:
- To work number recognition, and associating it to its quantity, they had to put the correct amount of pegs around a paper plate with a number on it, play “War” (Guerra) , making their own calendar, playing table games with a dice, different varieties of “generala”, IPAD games as “Hungry Fish”.
- To solve simple problems they had to find out how many friends came to school if X amount of children hadn’t come, or adding up the amount of girls and boys, etc.
- They also had to pay the account summary of what they had “spent” while playing shopping at the drama station. We gave each child a summary account with numbers they could handle. When they had added their account they had to pay the teacher using the money they had made for the Shopping play project
- ART: we have a group activity each week to explore certain techniques or art concepts. During the play stations we presented activities that needed more attention from their teachers, and where they had to follow more steps. We also took advantage of this time to make really messy activities, as painting on the tables, with easels, etc. They always feel very proud to share their productions with their friends during the evaluation.
- CONSTRUCTION: We introduce a variety of blocks along the sessions: big wooden blocks, table wooden blocks, dakis, legos, magnetic blocks, some of these being enriched with cars, little people, animals… We supervise how they get along while they are building, how they solve conflicts when they arise, how they describe what they have done, and if they wish to, they share their constructions with their friends.
- THINKING SKILLS: Here we play with different puzzles, as well as table games and activities that engage them in problem solving as “Rush hour”.
- BOOKS: We started this station as a place where they could go to “read” books, but they wouldn’t like it very much. They used to go quickly so as to go to the next station, so it wasn’t working. We came up with the idea that we brought very special books that could be seen only by the ones that went to this station. When we were doing the evaluation they could give a hint to their friends about what they had seen. They loved having such precious information, and only sharing a small piece of it with their friends. It made them feel mysterious!
- MISCELLANEOUS: Here we do fun stuff, as for example making and playing with our dough, shaving cream, playing with little people, cooking, sorting donations for Conin. It could also be using something from our Calm Down Box, which has objects as mandalas and stress balls for them to calm down. Sometimes we even use this station to work with those children who were absent when we presented a new letter sound.
We are very happy and satisfied with the outcomes of this new “method”, not only because we believe in it and we have observed a positive and joyful development of our pupils.
What gave us the clue that our children were really having fun while learning was their attitude while being engaged in their activities, as well as their comments:
- A few weeks ago, before starting to play in our Work Station period Agus asked the teacher if we could change the name and start calling them Play Stations. He was also very anxious to know if he would have these activities when he went to First grade.
- Santi told us that one of the things he would miss from Kindergarten was learning while playing as we do in Stations.
With the objective of giving continuity of what we have been doing in Kinder, the First Grade teachers have come to observe our Work Stations periods and as from 2014 they intend to start working in a similar way.
We also think that working in stations could be used in any school level or subject, making the necessary changes/adjustments according to the teachers’ and children’s needs. As they grow, objectives could be shared with the children as well as time organization, corrections and self – evaluations.
We are very enthused with our “method” and always willing to keep on improving or changing what ever is necessary, according to the groups we are working with, to help them in their personal development process in an attractive way.
Romina Porcelli, our Education Psychologist, recorded a video message with her evaluation of the work stations she has observed during this year.
Thank you very much for reading!