Pigs, wise men, musketeers. Veni, vidi, vici. Waltz, minuet, scherzo. Red, yellow, blue. Larry, Curley and Moe. Triangles!
From the very beginning of our Fairy Tale theme, our PreKindergarten class latched on to the Rule of Three with passion, preoccupation and persistence. Six weeks later, they are still going strong; finding threes in everything from the days of the month to the number of clouds in the sky, to the words that fall from their teachers’ lips. (“Ms. Pratt, you just told Khoi to put away the playdough three times!“)
Of course, an exploration of Fairy Tales is the perfect venue for that magical number three, and its deliciously concrete foundation is perfect for this age. When we read a new tale, eyes shine, ears sharpen and hands itch to shoot in the air with yet another example of that magical number to share.
The three building blocks of a CRS classroom (constructivism, creativity and connections) allow us the freedom to respond to the interests of our students, and adjust our curriculum accordingly. For our fairy tales theme, this meant taking the number three and running with it mathematically and literally – in the true sense of the word.
Paul Galdone’s version of the Three Little Kittens, is a dream of a book; it rhymes, it repeats, the sequence is clear, and that whole kittens-lose-things-and-mommy-gets-mad-so-they-don’t-get-pie thing just plays right into the psyche of a five-year old. After reading (and singing) it together as a class, we challenged our students to sequence the story from beginning to end.
Why write the sequencing of four and five year olds on a whiteboard? Children love to see their words in print (even messy print) – it gives them validity and importance. As they dictated and I wrote, children raised their hands to make the following observations:
- There are eleven different things that happened in Three Little Kittens!
- They go just like a book: across, and then down and over and across again!
- Why does each thing start with T?
- Each thing starts with Th! I see They and The!
- It says “The End!”
The next day’s morning question sported three mysterious plastic counting bears. What were they doing there?
The three bears on the morning question made our students think of a variety of things, some of which they spelled and wrote themselves. BARS (bears), BIG, MED, SMALL; DRTH MOL (the Star Wars character Darth Maul apparently sports the same bright red of the middle bear); sizes; MAE (me – Arturo does look like a teddy bear!); PATTERN and BOOK. Answering the morning question is all about reading, thinking, writing, language, speaking and listening – all of the language arts in one fell swoop.
The inevitable three little piggies made their first of many appearances one Wednesday morning, as part of Thematic Explorations time. In search of a more global version, we read The Three Little Javelinas, by Susan Lowell. The story structure is similar to the classic version, but the javelinas make their houses out of tumbleweeds, saguaro cacti and adobe bricks, and the wolf is replaced by a coyote.
Once we had read the story, we challenged our PreKers to build houses that that their teachers (The Two Ms. Coyotes) could not blow down, using classroom building materials. We paired them up, and put them to work:
Thematic teaching means watching for the “sparks,” those moments of collective excitement and engagement, and fanning those sparks into flames that inspire further exploration. A true test of the educational value of an activity in PreKindergarten is whether or not students in the class choose to recreate it, explore it in greater depth, or carry it further of their own accord. So Vanita and I were more than thrilled when our students asked us to “put out these things again tomorrow so we can build some more pig houses.” Here they are the next morning, during their free play time.
It took several days of immersion in the rule of three before PreKers made a connection between our fairy tale threes and the shape and parts of a triangle. No longer just any old shape, but a shape with three corners and three sides, the triangle took on new importance in the classroom. We worked on drawing them:
And we discovered that depending how you turn them, triangles can look a bit different from each other.
We even had a triangle treasure hunt, where we challenged our PreKers to find objects in the room and make triangles. Each triangle had to be made out of multiple pieces of the same material.
It’s funny how thematic trajectories like our students’ obsession with the Rule of Three ends up drawing us into their world. They haven’t let go of threes yet, and neither have I. I’ve renamed a particularly tight group of mischievous boys,”Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.” Vanita and I have created a song for the May Day Assembly entitled “Big Bad Wolf Mashup” which contains three kittens, three bears and three piggies. And did you know that the popular hand game Rock, Paper, Scissors contains three items? PreKers are particularly fond of choosing “rock,” and whacking fellow “scissors” with a fair amount of force, causing – you guessed it – blood, sweat and tears.