Really cute but not so fun in preschool

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on January 22, 2011

in On becoming a Professional, Professional Development

Last week, I visited a class that was making doves as part of their study of peace and MLK. As I observed this class, it was clear to both the teacher and I that this project was a cute idea on paper but pretty worthless when it came to process…

That’s the tricky thing about selecting activities for preschoolers to do. What may seem like an idea that fits perfectly with your theme and may even look adorable when it is all done, just isn’t all that fun for kids…

The teacher had prepared the doves by cutting and folding all the paper plates. I think the children could have probably cut and folded their own paper plates but for some reason this was already done for them. Perhaps it was because there would only be a limited amount of time and too many kids. Hmmm, time and numbers of children needs to be considered when choosing an activity…

The teacher also stapled all the pieces together while the children looked on. Hmmm, perhaps another something that the children could try to do…

Now this post isn’t to dog this teacher. I have seen this class engaged in wonderful activities throughout the school year. This just wasn’t one of those days or ideas that was working quite as planned and the focus on the process was lost in the midst of trying to expand on the concept of peace.

The teacher mentioned that she had thought about having the children paint their doves white but since the paper plates were already white – that just didn’t seem to make sense either…

Hurray! There was something to do. The children put glue on their beak and eyeballs and stuck them to their folded paper plate doves…

Have you ever just had one of those days where what you planned seemed so cool but you ended up doing most of the work?  The doves ended up being quite cute to look at on the table but the process didn’t lead to much discovery or creativity.

As teachers, we are always learning to look past how cute an art activity looks in a book or photo and instead think about what will the kids will actually get to do.  There really needs to be something for them to do!

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1 Alison: Itsy Bity Learners January 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I taught preschool for 10 years and it happens! Sometimes in the planning stages we get caught up in the outcome, we want something that looks cute, something that parents can understand, something outstanding for a display board … and when we sit there implementing our planning we suddenly realize our big mistake … lack of process.

Unfortunately as a program coordinator of a preschool I also witnessed many teachers role their eyes when I would use the” process not outcome”. There are some that are unwilling to reflect, I love how you and your teachers can stand back and acknowledge, “Cute. But not one of my better plans.”

2 Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Thank you Alison for your thoughtful comment. We are learning to be more reflective in our school – this is kind of new to our teachers too! I have been steering away from words that have become so “token” to the teachers like “process not product” and instead just call it like I see it for example… “so what will the children actually get to do without your help?” or “what part of this was fun for the children?”

3 shalini January 25, 2011 at 1:06 am

Hey Deborah,
the concept is wonderful, but like you and your teachers have already reflected and realized – the outcome wasn’t AH.. GREAT!
However, I think something more important( what as educators we must constantly do) is to be environment friendly.
styrofoam plates create a lot of toxic… not bio-degradable alternates could be paper plates.
i saw the activity i was so upset, wondering how much of non-degradable materials were used.
at our school, we’re trying really hard to recycle and inculcate this habit in children as well. so any art resource we choose could help in moving towards this venture!
like you said, we all make ‘less than awesome’ a learning experience at times! so its ok :)
this was just a suggestion i thought out.

4 Deborah J. Stewart January 25, 2011 at 1:10 am

Great suggestion Shalini! We do want to be environmentally aware and considerate:) Fortunately, these were made from paper plates!!

5 Dorothy Wong January 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I’ve been wroking in this field for the past 15 years, and this is so about Project vs. process. What was the learning benefit from this project aside from it all being cookie cutter. Hopefully the teacher has learned that she made a lot of work for herself and that the children didn’t really get anythign out of this activity. =0(

6 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 12:55 am

Well to the teacher’s defense, she was asked to do this project – it wasn’t something she planned on her own:) But I do agree, we need to seek out activities that the children can be more involved in or design activities in such a way that even if they end up looking similar, the children participate more actively and freely in the process.

7 Linda January 22, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I think many early childhood educators have unintentionally planned projects like these. It does happen and it takes time to feel comfortable doing something that isn’t representational and eye appealing. When I re-entered the work force after being home with my kids for 6 yrs I worked under a director who ‘chewed me out’ for doing open ended process art. She expected the cutesy eye appealing projects. Feeling somewhat out of the loop, I felt like a failure and seriously questioned my calling in life (which I had always dreamed of doing). Thanks goodness my sister, who is also a preschool teacher, told her director about my experience. They both reassured me that my director was the one who was out of the loop not me.
Over the years as I’ve searched the internet for ideas for my own preschool class, I find many, many craft-like projects which are very disappointing. I am so happy I have discovered the different blogs with awesome ideas!!

8 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 12:56 am

There are some wonderful ideas out there for sure Linda – it is very inspiring to find them:) I think your experience is quite common and it is very difficult to help adults understand the value of process.

9 Christie-Childhood 101 January 23, 2011 at 12:21 am

I love this post, Deborah. Now how do we make parents understand this concept as well???

10 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 12:52 am

Good question Christie – I suppose we just keep sharing our message:)

11 Sarah January 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

Oh, I got into this boat when trying to think of something for the children to make for Thanksgiving for their parents coming to our celebration. We made pinecone turkeys that were a disaster! We had to stop, put them away, and put them together ourselves after the children went home. The important thing is that after a disaster, we can say: ” Lesson learned. We will NOT be doing that again!” It really is true, the children get nothing out of it and you make a lot of unnecessary work for yourselves. Nice post for pointing this out!

12 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 9:35 am

LOL – I am sure we can all make a list of projects that we have planned and realized that it is cute but just too much for the kids to actually get to do anything:)

13 abbie January 23, 2011 at 10:18 am

I think this happens to even the best of educators. Something just aren’t really as simple for the little ones to do as they claim to be in the directions. OR (as preschooler are apt to do some days!) the kids just do not cooperate making the project turn into a disaster! This second thing seems to happen for us a bit too much for my taste!
Did look like a cute project though.

14 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Hi Abby,
You have made a very important point. If what we provide for the children to do is not inviting to the children – then they will definitely resist and not cooperate the way we hope! This is a good sign that we need to try another approach :) I often times really want the children to make something that is just so cute only to find that the children just were not that interested so I have learned to look for ideas that will capture their interest and engage them in the process. It is always a matter of giving something a try then reflecting on the purpose, process, and whether the kids liked it or not:)

15 Kimira January 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Hi Deborah

Thank you so much for sharing this. Sometimes I see my children coming home from school with work that I am sure they couldnt have done – it looked too clean. At home, we have painting that is mostly brown, playdough that is mostly brown etc, but I guess the kids explore more that way. Dont they?

16 Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Yes – you can alway tell when children are exploring and creating on their own:)

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