Wise Choice GuidanceWise Choice Guidance - Effective Strategies for Successful Children, Families, and Teachers

Insights, Ideas and Strategies
for Educators and for Parents

Tips for Educators and Parents

Tips for Educators
Winter 2011

Well, the winter holidays are over and it will be a long time until the weather warms up…how about considering some fabulously exciting curriculum ideas that will engage the children and keep them from getting cranky, bored, and sometimes kind of nasty as so often happens in the wintertime in cold climates?!

Let’s think first of emergent curriculum…what are the children in your classroom talking about, what are they playing during free choice time? Are they building space ships, pirate ships, or are they sneakily playing Super Heroes, despite your disapproval of such endeavors? Careful observation will help you choose some possible topics for developing curriculum projects. One winter, many years ago, one of the children in the program where I worked went to Jamaica over the winter break to visit her extended family. She came back and talked to her friends about Jamaica, and they became quite curious. Her creative teacher picked up on this, and created Jamaica right here in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois! He put fishnet around the walls with plastic fishes in it, he brought in fishing games, he brought in sand and put it in a baby pool in the classroom, he even made a swimming pool in the classroom and had the children bring in swimsuits so they could have a day at the beach in Jamaica! There was Jamaican food, Jamaican stories, all things Jamaican! The children loved it. This is multicultural curriculum at its best, when it arises naturally out of the children’s interests, because one of the children is connected to the culture being explored.

Another winter, the teachers decided to plan an indoor winter wonderland…there was ice skating indoors, with children wearing socks and sliding across the “rink” that was created with duct tape in a circle on the floor. There was a snow ball fight with nerf balls wrapped in cotton, there was a refreshment stand selling hot chocolate and popcorn, which the children helped to prepare and created tickets and pretend money that the children used to buy the snacks. They read winter snow stories, and they made food for the winter birds and animals, such as popcorn chains or balls of lard with seeds on them to hang in the trees in the front or back yard of the school. It was an amazing event, with lots of planning and thinking and drawing pictures beforehand of all the different activities and events that would occur.

One year, some children were fascinated and obsessed by basketball, and some were really interested in outer space and space ships. The teachers looked for common ground between these two topics and chose the shapes of basketballs and planets, circles, and used that as a way to combine both concepts into curriculum ideas and activities that went on for some time…

Other relevant curriculum ideas during this season relate to light and dark, shadows, all kinds of experiments with water…snow, ice, crystals…one can do shadow puppet shows, bring out the litebrite and have the children use it. (Do they still exist? I’m showing my age, but I always loved the litebrite, for the older children.) What other ways can the concepts of light and dark be explored in the classroom?

Remember to take the ideas from the children’s interests, then talk to them about what they might like to know more about or do with these interests…bring in books to the classroom about the topics so that the children can look at them and talk about them, then have a classroom meeting and discuss the possibilities. Then create a variety of activities relating to the topic(s) that include all of the major subject areas, music, art, literacy, science, math, gross motor, etc.

Please feel free to email your favorite curriculum units or projects so that we can share them with others who may need some new ideas…but always remember that these ideas must connect with what the specific children in your specific classrooms are interested in. Teachers can certainly bring up ideas, that’s always acceptable, but if the children don’t pick up on those ideas, you must change them… Have fun, it’s a long winter!

Tips for Parents

Well, what can be done for fun when the weather is gloomy? How about building a tent indoors and having a pretend campout? One can bring flashlights into the tent, have a meal or snacks in there, read stories.

I love reading all kinds of stories throughout the year, but there are a number of winter stories that are especially appealing to children…talk to your local children’s librarian, they are always so helpful, and there are new, wonderful books coming out all the time. One thing I love to do with young children is to read different versions of the same story…choose a fairy tale, such as “The Three Billy Goats’ Gruff,” and read a few different versions and see which one your child(ren) like best. After reading a few versions, perhaps your child will want to make up his or her own, that he or she can dictate to you, and you can have your child illustrate and then laminate and bind it, or just put contact paper over the pages and staple it together and make your own book!

I always suggest outdoor activities because I feel it is so good for children to get outside and breathe in some fresh air, even if it is cold outside. Physicians tell us that being outside in cold weather does not, in fact, make anyone ill. Actually, being indoors and close to lots of other people tends to make germs spread more easily than being outside. Unless a child has cold-triggered asthma, which can make being outside in the cold more challenging, it is very good for children to get outside, even when it is cold. So bundle everyone up and take a walk around the neighborhood, or take a bus or train to another neighborhood! Look at how the environment is different in the different seasons…what do you see, what is missing that is there in the spring/summer/fall? What do you see that you don’t see in the other seasons? This can be more difficult in places like Arizona and California, which have warm weather and blooming plants all year long…but I’m sure there are differences there as well…explore those, whatever they are. One difference is that there is usually more rain in the winter, and much drier weather the rest of the year! So take a walk in the rain one day and play in the puddles!

After your walk outside, come in and make up a story about what you did, where you went, what you saw. Creating books with children is wonderful on so many levels…they can remember their experiences, and they can read about them over and over again…”The Day We Took the Bus to the Store!” Write down what they saw and what they did, in their words!

Spend some time in the local library. Some communities have libraries that are interesting themselves, even architecturally. If you are lucky enough to have such a library, walk around it, and notice what’s interesting about the building as well as what’s interesting about what is inside the building!

How about an indoor Teddy Bear picnic? Lay out a blanket on the floor, bring some favorite stuffed animals or dolls, and have tea…or pizza, or cheese and crackers, or whatever seems appealing.

Parents can do some things that schools aren’t always allowed to do…like experiment a little bit with different kinds of light, including candle light…carefully, of course…but light some candles (place them up high and out of reach, naturally!) and turn off the lights and tell a favorite story in the candle light. You don’t always need to look at a book to tell a story. Children love listening to their parents’ memories of when they were children…tell them a story about you when you were a child, by candle light. It will be a real treat, I promise!

Enjoy the wintertime together!

Questions or comments? call Nancy Bruski at (847) 475-1828 or post them on our contact form.

1624 Ashland Ave., Evanston, IL 60201 • 1740 Ridge Ave., Suite 200B, Evanston, IL 60201 • (847)475-1828 • Email