Thursday, February 25, 2016

Singing in the Family Center

Written by Debbie Richman

On any given day in the Family Center, you will hear songs ringing through the hallways.
Some are songs to mark transitions and routines, such as the clean-up song, while others are more traditional songs for fun and enjoyment. Songs play an important role in early childhood classrooms, and while each classroom has their own collection of songs that they sing throughout the day, they all serve a similar purpose. Songs create a sense of comfort and community in a classroom, teach children about language and numbers, and help them strengthen their fine and gross motor skills. And, best of all, songs help children learn these important skills while still being a fun activity in which children can participate at whatever level they feel comfortable.

Singing songs, especially songs that are repeated throughout the year, creates a sense of community and belonging. The lyrics are something they can rely on. No matter what is happening in a child’s life, they can rest assured that their favorite songs will remain the same. As a classroom sings a song together, it also connects the children and helps everyone feel a part of something bigger than themselves. This is brought to an even bigger arena on Wednesday mornings, when the Family Center community gathers to sing with Tony. 



 Songs are also a way for children to develop language and practice their language skills. Phonemes, the building blocks of words, are practiced in songs that use nonsense words like “Rum Sum Sum” (or “Ram Sam Sam”). With rhyming songs like “Willoughby Wallaby Woo,” children learn rhyming through playful guessing. While singing these songs together, they are also practicing how to isolate discrete sounds within a word, which is an important early reading and early listening comprehension skill. Through songs, children are exposed to new vocabulary and phrases they might have not heard before. For example, in the song “Three Green Speckled Frogs” the children are exposed to the word “speckled.” While this is similar to the exposure children have from high quality children’s books, when singing songs children are hearing new words, singing them, and using the new words in context. 

Children also have the opportunity to practice number sense through songs that involve counting. For example, in the songs, “Five Little Ducks,” and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” children practice counting backwards from five down to one. By practicing counting these numbers over and over, children begin to memorize the correct order. While singing these songs, children also begin to use tools to help their counting, whether it is counting their fingers to determine the next number in the sequence or counting their friends. Children are also exposed to ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc) through songs such as “Five Little Pumpkins.” While practicing this song, children have the opportunity to match the cardinal number (one) to the ordinal number (first) by raising one finger on their hand (likewise with two and second, and on up to five). 

When singing songs, children are also developing their fine and gross motor skills as they move their hands and bodies along with the songs. In the song “Three Shiny Buns in the Bakery Shop,” children practice how to form the representation of three by folding one pinky finger down and holding it with the tip of their thumb (this probably sounds easy to us adults, but for two and three-year-olds, it can be quite tricky!). In the classic song, “Where is Thumbkin?” the teacher models how to isolate each finger on both hands while the children try imitate the fine motor movements. During more active songs, such as “Popcorn on the Train,” children are given the opportunity to get up and dance - whether that means jumping, twirling, bouncing, or waving their arms. In addition, during structured active songs, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” children engage in bending, reaching, and pointing while simultaneously working on matching their movements to the appropriate parts of the song.

Songs are an integral part of a high quality early childhood classroom for all the reasons above and many more. For instance, while singing and repeating songs children are strengthening their memory skills. Songs can also serve as a conversation starter. In the song “Five Little Ducks,” children also think about and hypothesize where the little ducks are going, what they are doing, and why they didn’t come back when their mother duck called. Practicing this kind of predicting is a skill that will serve children well as they continue on in their schooling towards reading comprehension. With all the myriad benefits of singing songs together, we encourage you to sing with your child, and sing often!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ready, Set, Mix – and Learn

by Sara Soll

“Academics” in the Family Center may sound like a contradiction, but pre-reading, math, science and social studies are happening daily in an integrated and very interactive approach.

A wonderful illustration of this viewpoint occurs when we make playdough.  There are a number of skills that can be gained from a cooking project. By following a recipe with pictures and a few words and numbers, children see how words and numbers represent real-life objects (reading). The children measure, count, and follow a sequence (math). They use their fine motor skills when filling cups, pouring, and stirring. The children are listening and following directions (attention and focus) as they take turns and work closely together (social development). When ingredients are mixed or cooked they change in appearance or texture (science).

There are many questions to ask during the process that will help the children to observe and think about what is happening. Playdough is created from a number of ingredients that look alike – flour, salt, cream of tartar – and children can see that things that look alike may feel and taste different. What happens when two or three colors are combined?  When the ingredients are on the heat, the children can observe the changes from liquid to solid.

First, read the recipe with your child, following the steps in sequence and noting the ingredients to be used. With each addition, pause to look and see what is happening. Consider how some of the ingredients may be mixing on their own, and how some do not. Observe what is changing. Does it change all at once, or gradually?  Always ask,  “Does it look like playdough yet?”


In a large pan so the children can stir without too much spilling: 
  • Measure and pour 2 cups of flour
  • Measure/Add 2 cups of water, observing what happens as the water pours onto the flour
  • Measure/Add 1 cup of salt
  • Measure/Add 4 tablespoons of oil
  • Measure/Add 4 teaspoons of cream of tartar
  • Measure/Add food coloring 
  • Stir the ingredients until all ingredients are blended. Observe what is changing. Does it change all at once, or gradually?
  • Heat on stove (medium flame) stirring constantly until it thickens and begins to come together and then falls away from the sides. 
  • Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container or ziplock bag.


There is so much learning in this one activity and best of all, you get to enjoy the results! The end product is an adventure all on its own. Playdough can be shaped with hands, rolled with a rolling pin, and cut into shapes with safe plastic knives, pizza cutters, or cookie cutters. It is easy to manipulate and young children enjoy mushing, rolling, poking, and squishing it!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Family Center Initiates Book Drive for Brooklyn Kindergarten Society

The Family Center just completed our first book collection, for the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society. Marji Molavi, parent of Gray in the Blue Room, came to me with this idea and we met with Jim Matison, the Executive Director to discuss the project.  Their programs serve more than 300 children, ages 2 to 5, and their families in five centers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Brownsville.  

This felt like a wonderful, appropriate opportunity for our students to experience giving something they do not use anymore to someone else who can now enjoy the books.  When I look at our library and the classroom book shelves and think about how important books are to children's development and learning, I am happy that we can now be part of giving children and families many wonderful stories to read and share. 


The boxes (decorated by each class) were located outside my office, so every morning as I sat at my desk I watched the children add their "donations" to the boxes. It is so clear to me that they worked with their parents to pick these books that they were finished reading. They knew that we would be sharing the books with other children who will now have a turn to read them.


Some special moments and observations during the book drive include:

  • "I have two of these."
  • A child kisses the book before putting it in the box.
  • Each book is held, looked at thoughtfully for a moment and then carefully placed in a box.
  • Books are randomly tossed into the boxes.
  • Books are distributed slowly and carefully into all three boxes.
  • Books are opened and "read" a bit one last time.
  • "Can I keep this one?" to his father, but it goes in the box.
  • One girl enters carefully carrying a stack of about 8 small board books. She is balancing them and trying to get all the way to the boxes with them, but as one slides off the top and as she tries to catch it they all fall. After a moment of trying to pick them all up, she has a new plan. One by one, she carries each individually to the boxes and puts them in. Dad patiently watches and lets her work it out - beautiful!
  • As children put books in, they are noticing the books already there with interest. Amazing that they don't try to take them out.

It is so clear to me that our students do understand that they are sharing these books with other children somewhere. I am very proud of them - they are not so big that the books they are donating are too easy for them. Maybe they are duplicates, maybe their bookshelves at home are overflowing, maybe they have been read so many times it is okay to pass them along... whatever the reason they are giving them away to an abstract "other child."

This is the beautiful essence of Service in the Family Center - where the foundation starts being built. In years to come they will learn why there are children who do not have books in their homes. For now they are learning that they have the ability to give, to recognize that they are able to fulfill another person's needs. In the classroom it is passing along a toy or book to a friend who is waiting for it, bringing a tissue to a friend who is upset to help them feel better. Our collections for Room to Grow and now this one for the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society are giving them an opportunity to make an appropriate Service step outside the classroom.

The boxes are very full and what is equally important is seeing how this experience works for our children.


Sara Soll
Family Center Director

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Patch of Spring Brightens a Dreary Winter

by Sara Soll, Director of Family Center

The cold, snowy, winter weeks have been full of indoor explorations for children in the Family Center. “Color and Shape” weeks, in which a particular shape or color is incorporated into classroom activities, played out in many different ways. We had snacks to match; art activities that explore that color or shape fully; water tables filled with color; and “shape hunts” to discover where these shapes are found around the school.

At the same time that the children were exploring color and shape, the Assistant Teachers were working together on new ways to bring all the classes together as a group. The teachers soon began planning to have classes create a “Community Shape Mural.” 

One cold morning, the front of the Family Center became a classroom. Long pieces of sticky paper
were hung in the window at the children’s level. Each class was assigned a shape to cut and bring to the project. In three rounds, a small group of children from each class came together and began to fill the sticky paper with shapes. Of course there was conversation about what shape they were placing, what color it was, and whether it was a big one or a little one. The young girls and boys worked alongside each other, mingling with children from other classes who might have been familiar by sight, but weren’t someone they had actually interacted with.

They compared shapes as they made choices and tried to find matching shapes to place next to each other. Together they watched the sticky paper fill with bright colors and familiar shapes. By the time the third round finished, the long banner was beautifully filled.

Even in a small program like the Family Center, it takes deliberate planning to bring classes together. We want this to happen because there is much to be gained at this time of year for children and teachers. Classrooms are very settled and the children have a clear sense and identity with of their particular class. They are also ready to expand those boundaries, and this project started by our wonderful Assistant Teachers is just one example of how this can happen.

The shape mural is still hanging in the window since that day, and no one really wants to take it down.