Friday, August 31, 2012

Boys and Their Brains

I was talking with my sister the other day asking her how her 3rd grader was doing at his new school. He has made a couple of friends already. He is the only child in his grade who brings his lunch. Homework has started, but there are no instructions as to how to complete the homework or what is expected. And then it happens. My sister shares that the teacher told her, "your son raises his hand a lot in class and really likes to ask questions and talk to me." Apparently this is not a good thing in that classroom. The children are NEVER allowed to talk....not even at lunch! YIKES!

That got me thinking about research and best practice for working with and being around boys. Boys really are different from girls. Their brains are physiologically different starting during prenatal development. Boys process information and interact in different ways with the world compared to girls. There are implications for children's cognitive and social/emotional development throughout the early years.

There are more than 100 structural difference between brains of girls and brains of girls. Prenatally, girl brains are wired for talking, reading, and writing. Girls have larger language structures in their brains than boys.  Prenatally, boy brains are wired for activity, attention to stimuli, and reacting physically. Boy brains aren't programmed to think a lot but rather to react in a protective way. Girls have greater access to both halves of the brain than boys do. The corpus colosum is actually thicker in female brains than in males. Girls can access the right side of the brain for word production and multi-tasking. Boys tend to operate from one side of the brain or the other and on single tasks. Female brains release dopamine and girls feel better when eating chocolate. It's good for the brain and the heart! Male brains, however, release dopamine and boys feel better when they hit someone. The male brain is rewarded by the feeling, sounds, and responses of conflict.

Let's think about how boys and girls experience, process, and express emotion. This has implications for behavior issues. Girls tend to give more eye contact, convey meaning through tone of voice, and use body language to give/receive cues related to emotion. Boys tend to give/receive high 5's (or low 5's), body bumps, fist bumps/pumps, and even more aggressive body movements.

The current education system favors strengths of girls versus boys. Girls are more equipped to sit still for long periods of time, pay attention, talk, read, and write.

Boys have less blood flow in their brains than girls. It takes a lot to keep boys awake and paying attention. Boys need brighter lights in classrooms, natural light, water breaks, and opportunities to move. This is counter to most classroom environments and teacher preferences. 

Girls respond to "the look" and it's easier to catch their eyes than boys. Boys tend not to respond to "the look" or even see it, and often this is interpreted as defiance. Play-based experiences (hands-on learning) equal decreased behavior problems.

So, what do we do with this information?
Think about your classroom or learning environment and what you expect out of your male students.

  • Is there plenty of light? 
  • Do the children can access to water when they want it?
  • Do you suggest children get a drink of water? (Side note: Look at the pads of your fingers. If they look pruney or shriveled, you need water! If they are puffed out and smooth, you are hydrated.) 
  • Do you have opportunities for children to move around the learning environment regularly? 
  • How long are you expecting or having children sit? 
  • How many transitions are required throughout the day? Can these be limited?
  • How balanced are your expectations about how children demonstrate learning? (Do you rely on verbal/language-based responses?) 
Children cannot help who they are, and you cannot blame a child for being him or herself. Boys will be boys as they say, and that means they fidget, make little noises, make faces, and generally will do anything they have to to stay awake. Before you decide that the problem is with the child, ask your self is the problem within the child? or within the environment or social system? If we expect that boys need more light, more active learning and play, and more water breaks along with less time sitting, we can plan to meet their needs and avoid some of the challenges boys bring to the learning environment. 
And ladies, understanding the physiological differences of the male brain can be beneficial when working with or relating to adult men as well! These brain differences do not go away as we age. 

Blog entry by Dr. Ellaine B. Miller, PhD. Family Child Care Partnerships 
at Auburn University.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Super-Sized Learning

Tired of the same old, same old?  Super-size it and make the same old a brand new experience loaded with SUPER SIZED learning!

photo of: Super Size your Learning + Art Experiences for Young Children (via PreK+K Sharing)

With a little imagination and cleverness, you can super-size almost any learning opportunity you currently provide young children. 

WHY would you want to SUPER SIZE learning?

Take a look at the following picture:

What happens naturally when children are presented with something SUPER SIZED?

1)  They need to problem solve
2)  They need to determine what they need, then ask for it. (whether it be people or tools to help them out)
3)  They need to use more muscles.
4)  They need to coordinate their bodies.
5)  They need to collaborate with others.
6)  They need to strategize.
7)  They feel empowered!!

That's just a few of the benefits super sizing play (aka: learning) provides!  This blog has some of the  successful ways I have super-sized play and thus, the learning that goes along with it.  Feel free to use these ideas, then put on your own thinking caps and clever pants and see what normal, everyday play opportunities you can supersize for super sized learning in your programs!!

Super Sized Marble Painting
All you need is a large, sturdy box (this is a treadmill box and it's HEAVY), large paper, paint and a variety of balls to supersize the typical marble painting!

Look at the focus, the teamwork, the muscles and coordination!!  This picture is at the beginning of the process, where the children are using trial and error to figure out how this is going to work. 

Further into the process, they have learned that standing up helps with lifting the very heavy box.  They have also named themselves "Parkers Side" and "Ty's Side" in order to coordinate the movement of the balls.

Through the process of trial and error and cause and effect, it was discovered that the box could be tilted this direction too. It was also determined that we needed more paint (FIrst determining, then asking for what you need is a valuable life-long skill).

Super Sized Playdough

Make at least 3 batches of homemade playdough..step back and watch out for super-sized learning!!  I have used anywhere from 3-8 batches at a time!  Plop the playdough onto the center of the table in ONE LARGE MOUND.  Stand back, and let the children take the lead from here! 

For extra fun, hide special items inside the playdough!  Our favorites?  "Monster Playdough" (only, I never told them it was monster playdough..they took what they found and created monsters out of it!!) "Treasure Playdough" (jewels and necklaces) and "Creepy Crawly Playdough" (plastic and rubber bugs!!) (for pictures of this playdough...go to my Facebook page, "Play Counts"!)  and "Snowman playdough" (buttons, small wooden dowel pieces painted orange). 

Keep in mind, when plopping a "theme" NOT, I repeat do NOT lead the children -- follow them!!!  They may not see what you see in the playdough and THAT'S OKAY!!!  For example...the snowman playdough actually became "birthday cake" playdough!  They used the "carrot noses" for candles!! :)

It takes more then just fingers to manipulate a large mound of playdough.  Lindsey has found it necessary to use her entire arm in order to create enough pressure to smash the playdough down!

Have you ever seen a child manipulate a small batch of playdough with both of their ARMS?! I don't think so!

Little Trillian is feeling mighty fine about himself as he cuts through this massive, and challenging mound of playdough!  Look at him working those all-important gripping muscles!!

Practicing Social Skills
This super sized mound of playdough has pirate treasure hidden inside.  Super-sizing playdough gives the children the opportunity to share, cooperate, imagine, compromise, use more muscles in different ways and is just plain FUN!!

Super Sized Puzzles
Floor tiles found at Sam's Club make an AWESOME super-sized puzzle!

Using Big Muscles is Empowering
The fact that the puzzle piece is BIGGER then Erik is and HE IS STRONG ENOUGH TO HOLD IT!!  This is extremely empowering for a young child.

Determination and Persistance
Little fingers have to work harder to manipulate large pieces.  Determination and persistance are big players when the going gets tough!  It didn't take long before an older child came to the rescue to assist this younger child with properly connecting the puzzle pieces.  Older children filling the role as leader and helper is very empowering for them.

Teamwork....enough said.

Super-sized Imaginations!
As if staying on the path, safe from hot lava wasn't difficult enough...then the children added SNAKES to the challenge!

Creative Ideas!
This was the third day of super-sized puzzle play.  Can you guess what they have made?!  A great, big, huge game of Candyland!!  A grand example of children leading their learning.  There is number recognition, one-to-one coorelation, large motor skills, children taking on leadership roles, pride in ownership (this was entirely their idea...I had ZERO to do with this...I am just the photographer)

Inventive Minds
Bergen was the first to take the puzzle pieces and build UP with them.  Very clever, very outside-the-box, and very impressive!  This became a present game, and then a giant jack-in-the-box (ironically, that IS Jack in the box!!)

Super Sized Ramps
Read more about how this super-sized play evolved at my blog, .  You will find it under the category, "ramps".

Think outside the box for some SUPER SIZED ramp fun!

Think Outside the Box
When the children were telling me what they knew about ramps, one said "Hey!  My nose is a ramp, Nita!".  Another child quickly added to that by holding onto her long hair declaring it was a ramp too!  This made me think outside the box for some super fun, super-sized indoor ramp fun!!  Read more about this, and see more pics by clicking HERE.

Trial and Error
Setting up a super-sized ramp like the one above involves lots of trial and error, lots of problem solving (see the stack of containers to get the ramps exactlyl the right height and angle?)

Hidden Learning
The children, on their own started recycling the water...quickly catching it at the bottom of the ramp and returning it to the giant tub of water.  The balls got tossed in for fun as they watched them travel down the ramp.  They learned the balls traveled faster with water poured after them.

Ramp Painting
These PERFECT cardboard ramps were discovered during a dumpster diving expedition to our local appliance store, and yes, that is the treadmill box once again!  Add some bowls of paint and ramps and you have a great opportunity for super sized learning!  The children loved to adjust the ramps to get the results they wanted.

Ella and Ty are debating the angle of the ramp.  Ella wanted her ball to make a bouncing trail, while Ty wanted his to run smoothly across the paper.

Organizing Bodies and Minds
Super-sized play requires organization of thoughts and materials.  I love how Avery is using her entire body in order to carry more balls.  She obviously cares a great deal about staying clean (sarcasm here folks)

Super Sized Goop
If it's fun in smaller quantities...then it's over the top GRAND when you super-size it!!  Take goop for example!  This simple cornstarch and water mixture is a hit...especially when feet can get involved too!  A simple dip in water cleans it right off!

Yes please!  Plenty of goop and space for free exploration!
Self Motivation
I love to observe children organizing themselves. I had nothing to do with this line. Look at them patiently waiting their turn! They are motivated by the fun and the fact that they own this adventure....and their feet LOVE it! Notice the purple bucket? That is the default washing bucket. It is present whenever something is messy. This gives sensitive children a safety net knowing that the ick can be erased immediately.

No explanation needed.  Clearly, she is LOVING the opportunity to be IN goop!  Super sized play provides super sized sensory experiences that awaken the senses and gets brains thinking of endless possibilities!
There you have it...a small list to get the juices flowing.  Now,...go put on your thinking caps and creative pants and see what fun play opportunities you can SUPER SIZE for SUPER SIZE LEARNING!! 

Author's Note:  It is always a pleasure to share the wonderful cleverness of my young crew!  All of the ideas you just saw began with a simple "plop" (click here for an explanation of a "plop"),  then  the children in my program led the rest of the way!  If you liked what you just read, check out my blog for more!! 

See you next time!!
-Denita Dinger
Professional Brain Developer and Defender of Play

I speak ENTHUSIASTICALLY FOR PLAY!!!  Contact me for more information about the topics I present!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Columbus Day Boats

Hello, great to be visiting from Red Ted Art again! Well... I know it is only August, but the new School Year is already beginning in some countries and about to start in others. So I thought it would be a good idea to share a little "Columbus Day" craft! Columbus Day is on the 8th October this year. So you have plenty of time to "get ready", should you want to talk your children about it! So, what better way to celebrate Columbus Day but with some boat crafts? I have two to share with you today.

Firstly our Paper Boats:

  paper boats 

They are a great little craft that you can make anywhere any time.  I love them. And I regard it as one of those "basic crafts" all children (and adults) should learn how to make! He is a video Paper Boat tutorial (I have problems embedding codes, so I am afraid you need to go back to Red Ted Art for the video!).

 Next up.. are these adorable Walnut Boats. I love love love Walnut crafts (see how many we have made already?! )

  waldorf crafts walnuts 

We made the boats in the picture from old candles, toothpicks and paper sails. However, the original batch of boats I made, were made with colourful tape. Which is great for when the little boats go for a swim. They do eventually topple over. So if you have tape as sails, you can just put them up right again, and let them swim. The paper sails have a tendency to get soggy! Check out the little Walnut Boat How To for more details!

If you decide to make these in a class room and don't want to use hot wax, you could try using blu-tak of playdough instead of the candle wax. Try it out BEFORE hand and make sure you are happy with your craft, before trying it with a classroom full of children!!

Happy Columbus Day! And Happy Crafting!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Every so often, I take a day away from my day job as the counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary School to go and give a workshop, keynote, or breakout session, and my emphasis is always on Singing, Dancing, Laughing, and Connecting.

Let's look at the dance part of that equation. Why dance? Physical activity actually awakens the brain and releases chemicals that magically open it up and prime it for learning. 

If you haven't read Brain Rules by John Medina or Spark by John Ratey, do yourselves a favor and check out these two books.

So how does that translate into the classroom with our little sprouts? Essentially, we've got to MOVE them all day long! Here are some resources to help make that happen. Do you know the song Tony Chestnut? I had my keynote participants in Alabama try it with me and I found that even grown-up brains are challenged by this one! Here's an cute clip that I found on You Tube, performed by the class of 2021:

Brain break books for purchase abound, but there are also free resources online for creative ways to fire the dendrites in your little learners. You'll want to bookmark the Energizing Brain Breaks blog and the Minds In Bloom site for some quick brain breaks. The Michigan Department of Health has this moving Brain Breaks site. Take a Shake Break with Pancake Manor and don't forget to let your brainiacs go bananas with Dr. Jean's Banana Dance! 

What are your favorite go-to strategies to ignite brain activity in your little learners? Leave a comment below! For more character-infused ideas, come on by The Corner on Character.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dawn Ginese: The Singing Nurse

Art, Music, Education & Inspiration for a Healthy School Year!

by Dawn Ginese, RN aka The Singing Nurse

Wow, great to be with you and to gather with some of the most creative motivated folks in education. Miss Debbie has given me the opportunity and awesome privilege to post today. You can click here to read a bit more about my background as a Head Start nurse and beyond.

I will write a fairly short post but include several links so you can become familiar with my website resources and posting style. Below are some of my favorite subjects to share about that really get me churning.

Doing what it takes to teach the point!
Back to School might have already begun for some of you so here are some helpful tools and ideas I can offer to make your school year fun, educational, musical, creative and healthy of course. Please contact me if you get stuck on a subject that you need a little creative flare or a song to drive home the educational point. I would love the challenge and always welcome new ideas.
Beauty from Nature

Presently I care for a home-bound disabled boy and work long 12 hr shifts and need to occupy this typical 6 yr old with interesting things to do and learn. So, I often post the projects we work on, like fun ideas using elements from the outdoors.

Cards Created from Nature Paining

We often paint with earthy items from the outdoors to create cards and book covers.

I love looking around and seeing what is at hand to recycle and make it into something fabulous. I know what you are do the same right? I call myself a preschool teacher with a nurses hat.

I write posts to help you teach the family and little ones how to be healthy. We Post about germ games, hand washing, Lyme disease, brushing teeth, an occasional pictorial poem and more.

Alligator in My Soup

And of course we always have something in the musical cooker. The most recent project I am excited about is "Alligator in My Soup", a song about eating our veggies and of course the alligator thinks they are yummy because they are good for you. (My dental lesson also includes fun activities with veggies and other healthy things that make our teeth happy.) We created an alligator with shoe boxes that was inspired by recycling and reading books with alligator themes, then from there the song sprang. The veggie eating characteristic of our alligator was inspired by my daughter in-law's dilemma. She was having difficulty getting the grand-kids to eat their veggies. I hope to make the finished project available by 2013 including a song video.

If anyone is interested in being part of this project please contact me. It would include pictures of your children with certain veggies and possible short movie clips. I will post more details later.

The greatest resource I can offer you are my songs and that is what comes from the deepest part of me. I have also written health lessons for kids that go along with my health songs. The lessons include crafts and more to make your school year easier, happier and healthier. Health Lesson Overview

I would love to connect with you to help in anyway I can. My goal is keeping our greatest treasures, our kids, excited about learning and creating, caring about creatures, caring about their neighbors, discovering and caring about our awesome world, and of course, keeping them, their classmates and their awesome teachers happy and healthy.

Thanks again Miss Debbie for sharing so much with us and letting me share with your friends today.

For Life and Healthy living,

Ms. Dawn, The Singing Nurse

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Quiet, Straight Line IS Possible

I remember the first day of the first year I taught kindergarten. Mind you, I had just gotten done teaching 5th and 7th grades for 3 years and the only experience I had with groups of children who were 5 years old was, um, basically none. I had a love for children, I had a way with teaching and I thank the good lord above that the principal where I'd been teaching recognized that to give me a chance with the little ones. Anyway, we were leaving a very loud lunchroom and I was going to have a quiet line, one way or the other...I could do this. I wished I had a video of this moment because it would really come in handy during one of my classroom management presentations as a perfectly, comical way to NOT line up children (as I begged the children to stop talking, keep their hands off themselves and told them -can't believe I am going to tell you this- "We will not be leaving the cafeteria until you are all in a quiet line.") The advice that a kind, much more experienced onlooker watching me gave me was this: Just go, they will follow. Guess what? It worked...So, maybe they weren't quiet like I had wanted, but we all got back to the classroom in a timely fashion and the rest of the classes who were waiting for us to leave, got to go, too.
Although it wasn't perfect, as the years of experience have piled on, I have come up with an almost flawless way to march my 20+ kindergarten students through the halls in an organized, quiet fashion by the end of the first week of school. You don't believe it? Well, then listen here my friend and I will show you EXACTLY what I do.
It all starts with this cute, little monkey face that I make them practice like mad monkeys throughout the first day of school. (Don't worry, I phase them out of it by the end of the year 1st grade teachers!). They know my favorite animal is a monkey, so they all try to be the cutest (and quietest!) monkey they can be and it works like a charm. Their mouth is blown out (no talking!) and their hands are tied up by pulling out their ears (no hands on the walls or others!).
Next up? Stop signs! If you are like me, you are the only teacher with a long-winding monkey line. It is impossible to keep track of the front, middle and back of the line at once all by yourself, but, one way to make it easier is to create stopping points. Rather than saying (EVERY time you walk down the hall), "Stop at the corner." or "Stop next to the office," give your students visual cues to stop at the same places every time. They are called our Kindergarten Stop Points. This way, you never lose control of your long line.
I thought I'd share my signs with you so you can have Kindergarten Stopping Points, too! Who am I kidding? I had to create some new, cute-sified stop signs to use this year (haven't you heard the rumor resonating the net this summer? It states that the cuter your room and decor is, the easier your teaching job will be this year! Ha ha!). Hope this helps YOUR year be a little easier!

I made a few different styles of stop signs for you to hang in your hallways. The arrows are to tell them whether it is a stop for coming or a stop for going. Just laminate and hang them up at a few key stopping points between your classroom and your destination and PRAISE the line leader who remembers to stop. Swing on into Mrs. Miner's Monkey Business to grab your stop sign freebies.

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