"[Thinking Big, Learning Big] helps very young children to prepare for core academic areas with creative activities that are fun. At the same time, it guides children to think in ways that will help them achieve not only academically throughout their school years, but also throughout their lives."
--Myrna B. Shure, PhD, Drexel University
"Thinking Big, Learning Big is going to be a BIG hit with early childhood educators everywhere. The comprehensive teaching units will help to make any classroom a great place for children to learn across the curriculum. The clear, concise directions for each activity make them easy to implement.
The ideas are child-centered and contain lots of great tips to make each lesson a valuable learning experience. "Thinking Big, learning Big" should be a BIG part of every teacher's curriculum plans."
--Stephanie Burton, teacher, author, and owner of Panda Bear Publications
"This teacher-friendly book enables all to foster a love of learning and science in the students."
--Laura Ristrom Goodman, curriculum coordinator, Pima Medical Institute
"Science as a content area is often neglected in preschool classrooms. It is wonderful to see such a quality source of science activities done in such a comprehensive manner. The use of cross-curricular connections, a balance of child-initated and teacher-facilitated components, and the inclusion of explicit opportunities to support oral language development demonstrate the book's attention to developmentally appropriate practices."
--Alice K. Wiggins, MEd, director of early childhood programs for the Core Knowledge Foundation
"A terrific resource for the early childhood educator... I recommend teachers keep this book in the classroom for easy access."
Nevin Valentina, adjunct instructor, Department of Child Development at Santa Rosa Junior College
Q: You were a journalist for more than 20 years before you changed careers and became a teacher. Why did you leave journalism for teaching?
After writing about child development, education and parenting for national magazines I decided I wanted to be in the classroom working directly with children and parents, rather than solely writing about how children learn and grow. I love putting into practice the knowledge I gained from interviewing researchers over the years. Plus, it’s so exciting to see children blossoming each school day. As a teacher I continue to use my journalism experience. Instead of writing individual magazine articles about education trends I wrote a whole curriculum book based on experiences in my classroom.
Q: Where did the idea for Thinking BIG, Learning BIG come from? Why do children benefit from learning BIG?
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG grew directly from my experience teaching at the Mountain View Parent Nursery School, a parent participation school in California. When I began teaching I was impressed by how the experienced teachers followed the children’s interests and looked for ways to explore topics throughout the curriculum so children really became immersed. They inspired me to go beyond hands-on activities and instead develop explorations that I call arms-on, legs-on learning.
For instance, one year a new high school was built near our school. The children were fascinated to watch the work progress, and asked questions about how the workers did their jobs. So, construction became an exciting topic for exploration at our preschool. Building in the block area provided numerous opportunities for problem-solving and scientific inquiry: “What will happen if I add more blocks?” “Why did the tower fall?” The children explored math concepts like size, shape and pattern. They drew pictures of their creations and dictated stories.
We introduced vocabulary words like exterior, interior, foundation, architect and skyscraper so children could describe their work. Acting out The Three Little Pigs enabled us to discuss building techniques while developing literacy skills. “How is the first little pig’s house built?” “What is the new high school built with?” “Could the big bad wolf blow down the high school?”
Especially engaging for children were several big-scale activities. They loved creating a skyscraper out of egg cartons that reached “up to the sky” that “a hundred million billion people” could work in. They built houses out of appliance boxes big enough for a family, complete with a front door and a doggie door.
This big-picture approach helps children learn on several levels. Substantial research shows that learning is easier when it relates to something children care about and when it builds on something they already know. A connected curriculum is more effective than content taught in short, unrelated pieces. Children want to learn how to measure so they can find out how tall their building is. They remember new words like “interior” and “exterior” when they can use them to describe their cardboard box house. These skills lay the foundation for higher-level math and literacy. At the same time, extended explorations give children time to observe, wonder, ask questions, explore and reflect on their experiences, which is crucial to learning.
Including big-scale activities ramps up the fun while increasing learning about important concepts. Children really learn what it means to make something stable as they try to balance their egg carton skyscraper on a big box. Kids are totally engaged when they can use their whole bodies, rather than just their hands.
BIG is powerful for children. When we help kids think BIG, it helps them become BIG by expanding their sense of what’s possible.
Q: How did your own classroom of four- and five-year-olds inform the activities in Thinking BIG, Learning BIG?
All the topics in Thinking BIG, Learning BIG grew out of the children’s interests. On a rainy day, a child’s question, “Why do I have to wear a rain jacket?” led to an exploration of what is waterproof, and to a bigger investigation of rain. Children’s questions about wind on a stormy day led to explorations of the different ways they could make air move, which became the basis of a chapter on wind.
The book ideas are all classroom-tested. The children gave instant feedback. My aha realization of the power of BIG the day I saw how engaged the children were creating a giant spider web compared with making small yarn spiders. Attaching tape to the string framework of the giant web on the school patio with my teaching assistant, Tim, was far more interesting than wrapping yarn in a ball to make a spider body. Yes, the children wanted to have a completed spider, but they quickly went back to build the web which one child said was “big enough to catch bad guys.” They began testing its stickiness by adding bits of grass and leaves. They wondered if any insects would get caught in their web. They decided they should make some flies out of construction paper. Their ideas grew and grew.
It was clear that big-scale activities boosted learning. When we explored earthworms, for example, children were fascinated to observe the worms scrunch up and then stretch out along the length of a plastic rain gutter. But it was hard for the children to see the individual segments in the worms. So we suggested they build a giant worm out of paper lunch bags stuffed with newspaper. “I see the parts!” one child said.
We also use the big scale in reverse with abstract concepts like outer space and inventions. Here, the challenge is to make a big topic more child-sized and approachable. We can’t take a fieldtrip in a real spaceship but we can turn our sandbox into the moon and build moon rovers and Mission Control and experiment with how to make craters in pretend moon dust. To explore inventions we learned about Band-Aids and invited children to try different materials to create their own bandages.
Q: Why is science an important aspect of the preschool curriculum? What do children gain from learning scientific concepts at an early age?
Science explorations tap into children’s sense of wonder about the natural world. They love playing with water and discovering how it pours, how it flows through tubes and pipes, and how it drips from an eye dropper. Children are excited to experiment with creating wind by blowing through straws and waving cardboard. They roll toy cars down ramps over and over, experimenting with making the ramps higher and longer. Their scientific discoveries are embedded in play.
This focused play develops important skills. Through exploring science topics children get experience observing the natural world, asking questions and figuring out how they might find answers to their questions. They also practice describing what they observe and recording observations in charts, graphs and journals. They look for patterns and develop explanations. This process of scientific inquiry lays the foundation for original, high-level thinking and life-long learning.
Q: What ways can families incorporate the ideas in Thinking BIG, Learning BIG into the home? How does exploring the concepts in the book at home benefit children?
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG launches families on a path of fun, approachable ways to develop an attitude of inquiry and exploration. When families notice a child’s fascination with ice cubes in a glass of water they can ask, “What do you notice about the ice?” When a rainy day cancels plans to go to the park, families might take time to go for a walk in the rain and observe the rain running down the gutter. They might make a rain gauge to see how much it rains and make predictions about when it will stop raining, just like a meteorologist does. Or more simply, they can give their child a funnel and cup to explore water in the kitchen sink or bathtub and discover how it flows.
Other ideas families can use at home:
* Ask leading questions: One of the main way families help children learn is through conversation. Each activity in the book includes suggestions for discussion starters that will get children thinking and talking such as, “What was something surprising you saw or heard outside in the rain?” and “What do you think it would feel like to have as many legs as a spider?” To get started asking open-ended questions try, “What do you think would happen if…?” and “What can you tell me about…?”
* Don’t hesitate to use big words: Just as children love learning the names of dinosaurs, they are happy to learn that an architect is a person who designs buildings and the outside of a building is called the exterior. Numerous studies have shown that vocabulary is essential to building reading comprehension. Specific words empower children to speak, read and write precisely. When introducing a new word, it’s helpful to clap out the syllables so children can hear each part: “ab-do-men.”
* Read great books: Each chapter of Thinking BIG, Learning BIG includes descriptions of excellent books of facts and stories. Bedtime stories can be part of daily discovery.
* Incorporate math naturally: Practice counting, sorting and estimating in daily tasks. Families can ask, “Do we have enough cookies for everyone to have two?” “How many trips will it take to bring the groceries into the kitchen?”
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG helps families remember that much learning happens through play, whether at home, or at school. These strategies build habits that lead to a life-long love of exploration and discovery.
The following Professional Development opportunities are offered by this author:
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math Literacy and Language in Early Childhood
This workshop introduces educators to the Thinking BIG, Learning BIG philosophy and strategies. Learn how the excitement of BIG activities energizes early childhood programs while meeting standards. Use inquiry-based science to integrate math, literacy, language, art, drama and movement. Gain confidence in your ability to do science explorations based on children’s interests to build a foundation for high-level thinking. Learn innovative techniques to introduce vocabulary words and boost literacy. Learn how to weave BIG math activities into science topics to help children get a real "feel" for numbers. You will see that you don’t need to be a science expert or math wiz. All you need is a willingness to say, “Let’s try it and find out.” See the classroom-tested ideas in a vibrant PowerPoint presentation featuring photos from Marie’s classroom. Depending on your time available you’ll be able to try a variety of activities that are arms-on, legs-on, whole-body learning that you’ll be able to share with children right away. Learn how you can think and learn BIG even in small spaces with limited time and money. Discover how Thinking BIG means Learning BIG.
Two or three hours.
BIG Fun Science
Kids love science and so will you after experiencing this workshop. Science is more than facts. It’s an attitude toward learning, a method of discovery. See through a vibrant PowerPoint presentation what topics work well in early childhood classrooms. Investigate how children need time to observe, explore, develop questions and make discoveries. Learn how to build on children’s interests and help them develop deeper thinking over time. Choose a selection of science explorations from a variety of topics including wind, rain, ice, rainbows, earthworms and the moon. You’ll be able to try out specific lesson plans you can take back to your classroom. Learn strategies for children to document their work and discuss their discoveries. You’ll come away with many practical and inexpensive ideas you can use right away for arms-on legs-on, whole body learning that totally engages children. You’ll also take away ideas for assessment and strategies to connect science with math, art, drama and literacy.
Two or three hours.
BIG Fun Math
You don’t need to be a math wiz to do math with children. Find out how popping popcorn helps kids learn math skills. Learn how to make pretend “moon dust” so children can practice measuring and comparing sizes. Learn how games give children a real feel for numbers. Large-scale activities make math concepts come alive while meeting standards. The workshop will teach you arms-on, legs-on, whole body learning that you can use to engage children right away. See how BIG math equals BIG Learning plus BIG fun.
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG for Families
Learn fun, easy and inexpensive activities that promote a sense of discovery and lay a foundation for increased comprehension in this program designed for parents and children ages 3 to 8. Find out how you can build math and science skills at home while playing games. Experience innovative techniques for boosting vocabulary, and learn about great books which explore concepts.
Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language Plan a customized presentation. Groups typically start with the Thinking BIG, Learning BIG overview then add elements of BIG Science and BIG Math. Choose a selection of science and math explorations from a variety of topics including wind, rain, ice, rainbows, earthworms and the moon. Try gross motor games, drama and art to expand the learning and engage children. Talk to Marie about what would work best for your group.
Full day, six hours.
To request information about this author´s presentations, please contact [email protected].