If you thought the inclusion of devices in classrooms had made puzzles obsolete, think again!
Although you’re more likely to see kids learning digitally these days, rather than putting together traditional puzzles, including these in independent centres can have surprising benefits for your learners.
A quick and inexpensive way to include puzzles in your classroom is to print 2 copies of clear images of your favourite artworks. Laminate both to help them last longer. Keep one for a master and cut the other one up. The complexity of the cuts and sizes of the pieces will depend on the level you teach.
In this post I have included images of my puzzle centre in use - perennial favourite among students of all levels.
Solving puzzles helps reinforce existing connections between our brain cells, improves mental speed and thought processes. Furthermore, puzzle-solving improves our short-term memory which helps us notice and remember small details, then visualise how these might fit into the bigger picture.
Creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills are becoming increasingly valued in the workforce today. Puzzles help us to develop these important skills.
Puzzles require us to trial different approaches when solving a problem because there is a lot of trial and error involved. Students learn to formulate theories, test hypotheses, and change perspectives when something doesn’t work.
Solving a jigsaw puzzle gets children to look at many different pieces and figure out where they fit within the larger picture. Better visual-spacial skills help with a number of everyday tasks, including:
Positive Attitude & Calmness
Puzzles also increase our brains’ production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and feelings of optimism. This also affects memory, concentration, and motivation.
Dopamine is released every time we successfully solve a puzzle — or even just get one piece in the right place. This encourages students to continue working on solving them and challenging themselves.
Puzzles also help us to relax as our brains go from a “Beta,” or wakeful, state to an “Alpha” state when we’re solving puzzles. The Alpha state is similar to the state we’re in when we’re dreaming. This shift in consciousness comes with many benefits, including:
Ability to make deeper connections
Increase our self-confidence
Attention to Detail & Increased Productivity
Attention to detail is crucial. You need to train your eyes to pick out slight similarities and differences in line, colour or shape that will help you put everything together.
An ability to pick up on small details helps in every other aspect of learning. When students are more detail oriented and precise, the quality of their school work improves.
Happier, calmer students concentrate better and their productivity levels increase. A puzzle break can help to reset the brain for focused learning.
Puzzles also build collaboration between learners. Researchers found that giving learners the opportunity to work together on solving puzzles, allows them to improve their relationships and their abilities to cooperate over completing a task. Including more complex learning tasks later on.
Puzzles & Adults
And if you like the sound of all of this, puzzles have great benefits for adults too. They delay the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping the mind active through puzzles and other problem-solving activities can reduce the amount of brain cell damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients. It also supports the growth of new nerve cells and strengthens the connections between them. Researchers have also found a correlation between the number of years someone has been solving puzzles and the likelihood that they will develop Alzheimer’s.
So, the sooner you start making puzzles a regular part of your family and classroom life, the better. It’s never too early to start protecting your brain.
Kia Kaha (stay strong)
Making the most of working and learning from home is all about attitude. Approaching this new (and temporary) situation with positivity and a sense of adventure, even humour, can make it a time of adventure and connection. First thing that all members of the family need to accept is that the usual routines will not longer apply and everyone will ned to make compromises. But viewing these compromises as opportunities for kindness, gratitude and togetherness, will go a long way toward ensuring a positive experience for all.
With this as the focus, I have collated suggestions about Daily Routines below that could help your family along the way. Share this post with your friends and families in your community, and let us support as many people as we can, together.
Routines are important so that everybody knows what to expect. Adults have routines at work, children thrive on routines at school. Now these two diverse routines collide as parents work from home and school close indefinitely.
So a new routine that accommodates everyones needs at a minimum, needs to be drawn up.
Everyone in the house needs to be involved in this draft because it effects everyone. When you don't have full buy-in from the whole family, an imposed routine will soon unravel.
A daily routine can include elements like family time, independent time, learning time, work time, exercise time and house keeping time at a minimum. Then, each family will have their own unique elements to fit within those. Depending on your family, elements of the routine can be successfully combined, like family and exercise time or house keeping and learning time, even work and independent time. Develop a routine that suits your family's needs and lifestyle, try it out and then make justifiable modifications as needed.
Work Time for Adults
Depending on your job and working style, your work time requirements will differ. Some people need complete isolation to carry out work tasks, while others can comfortably carry these out at the kitchen bench on a laptop. Set yourself strict work hours that do not exceed what you would normally do at the office. When you have elementary aged children at home (or younger), you will need to modify your work hours / times around meeting their needs as well. Trying to do both simultaneously, usually doesn't work well. However if aspects of your job can involve your children's help, this is a great opportunity for them to learn about the working world and also a bit more about what you do all day while they are at school, leading to a greater level of understanding and intergenerational empathy.
If and when schools close for health and safety reasons, parents will suddenly need to play a greater role in maintaining their children's academic level (if not progress) and interest in learning. This can be daunting for many parents, whose priority centres around maintaining their jobs and income, or who may not even be able to stay home because of the nature of their work, or who are looking after several children within their family / community networks while other parents are still attending to their jobs for as long as possible.
Your first port of call is your child's school communication system. Schools across the world are requiring that their teachers supply learning guidance for their classes, to maintain a sense of communication, belonging and community.
This can come with its own challenges because every household is different, their access to resources differs greatly and each family's routine is unique. Saying that, learning time still needs to be built in. Don't get stressed out by work that teachers post for your children, make sure that you give honest feedback about what is working for you and your family. Teachers would rather know how the planning they provide for distance learning is being received and why. They are well versed in differentiating their programmes within the classroom already, so it would only follow that the same would be required for distance learning classrooms as well.
You can also read my next post for a list of open-ended home learning ideas to try.
Family Time, Exercise and House Keeping
These 3 areas of the routine are also important. When families are required to stay isolated from others, tolerance levels for those that they are with, can quickly waver. Even more so when jointly drafted routines are not respected by members of the family. Times that the family spend together, free of work and pressures, just to have fun and play, can help to diffuse any building tensions. These times can be spread throughout the day and coincide with snack and meal breaks.
Exercise is also imperative. If you can, go fo a walk or bike ride, outside in the fresh air. If not, then explore your garden or start a yoga or gentle exercise routine that you build onto each day. Aim to include the whole family, ensuring that everyone is getting some activity to help elevate their mood and health levels.
With people spending a lot more time in their homes, the place can quickly get untidy and messy. Everyone needs to play a role in maintaining the home and time needs to be set aside for this. Assign chores to each family member and a time that these need completing by. Giving children house keeping tasks teaches them responsibility, independence and a sense of community spirit - all working together for the greater good.
My final word in this post needs to be that nothing lasts forever so these challenging times too shall past. And if you approach it with hope, positivity and kindness, you will come out on the other side with an even stronger family bond, then what you started with.
Take care of each other!
Kia Kaha (stay strong)
“Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Sir Ken Robinson
I was a general classroom teacher for 15 years before specialising. Yet I can honestly say I never taught any of my students to read in all that time.
There simply aren’t enough hours in a teaching year for merely teaching skills to mastery. Students need miles upon miles of mileage to truly master reading. And by that I don’t mean decoding text. I mean reading for meaning.
Instead what I aimed to do was inspire. Inspire a love for words, phrases, unpacking an author’s point of view and predicting a reader’s inference.
By unlocking the code of reading for meaning, students’ thirst for adventure, for knowledge, for losing themselves in imaginary worlds, drives them to pursue reading independently. To seek out genres that they personally find engaging and fulfilling. The growth in my students reading levels across the learning year, was staggering.
Six years ago, I specialised in teaching visual art and digital media across kindergarten to Year 6 (ages 4-11). Again, I applied the same methods. As a specialist you may see every student in the school but for very little time. Personally, I may see a student for 18 periods a year. Hardly enough time to scratch the surface of all the possible skills that live within these subject.
So I modelled my approach on the way that I used to teach reading.
My aim is to awaken a love for creating.
I see my role as establishing the context and providing the support for students, that inspires them along the path of personal exploration/s and to build their confidence for self expression and communication through a visual medium.
Once they experience that intrinsic satisfaction unique to a creative experience, they are hooked.
For me the true test of whether this method works is not the work produced in class, often skill based explorations due to minimal time and curriculum goals. It’s the independent self directed work that students take on beyond the art room - the creativity they apply to classroom work or home based pursuits. It’s the parent who tells me about how their child won’t let them go past a stationery or art supply store without buying something or asking for solutions to store the growing piles of artwork at home. It’s the child that is conceiving, prototyping, creating and making solutions to everyday problems. It’s the child that sees such problems as opportunities to be innovative.
Visual Art is not a stand alone subject, only to be taught in specialist art lessons. It is a transdisciplinary way of thinking that can positively influence all aspects of our students’ lives. Visual Art is not about making pretty pictures to hang in the school corridors. Far more important and useful is the thinking that come before the product.
A final product has one use but the soft skills developed during the creative process are what makes Visual Art an essential area of learning for students.
Art with Mea
IG: timea_oneteachersjourney, artwithmea
Recently I read a post on a Facebook group that stopped my scrolling thumb in its tracks. And the responses that followed from other teachers concerned me even more.
The post slammed the timeless imagery in children’s artworks, calling these elements trite and cliche. Then asked for support from the Facebook community to agree - and many did, further adding their own particular frustrations to the list.
So what was this teacher referring to and what was the glaring 'hole' in her point of view?
When you think of children’s art, what are the images that spring immediately to mind? I’ll bet these include rainbows, hearts, corner suns, ’tadpole’ people, perhaps a unicorn. Teachers expressed frustration at seeing these childhood elements in their student’s work, year in and year out.
Delving a little deeper, one could see that the writer of the post was experiencing frustration, trying to board the ‘differentiation movement’ bus, exploring teaching methodologies based in *TAB principals and recently offering more choice based centres to her students. She was disappointed when the independent work produced did not approximate the standards that she was used to achieving with teacher directed projects.
The ‘hole’ here is a clear understanding of **adult vs child aesthetics. There is a vast chasm between what adults would judge as aesthetically pleasing, and that which children do. Eyes of teachers and parents have also been fooled for decades by the adult designed, reproduction art factory that has been passing as art education for several decades now.
Art is about communication.
Your ideas, thoughts, feelings, what you value and how you wish to impact others.
Everything that an artist does, references something about them. Hearts, corner suns, rainbows, unicorns, a line of blue painted across the top of the page for sky and those strange looking eyes with two light spots are all part of developmental phases that young artists go through.
The reason teachers see these elements on repeat is because - hello - we teach the same age groups year in and year out. We need to allow young artists to go through these developmental phases , just as we did at that age, and support them to move on, as and when they are ready to do so.
The next time a student paints the blue sky stripe, step outside with them and ask them what they see when they look at the sky colour, where does it start and stop, does it touch the buildings or grass, then compare it to their own work and make adjustments that they (not you) noticed / learned.
When they draw a corner sun, respond positively - they noticed there is a sun in the sky and they are trying to communicate that their picture is about daytime. Perhaps run a workshop on the many ways artists show suns in their work, or the positions within your picture where the sun can be located, based on the time of the day. Take students outside with view finders so they can see that the sun is usually too high in the sky to be included in the frame of their picture.
Allow children to learn through discovery.
While we as teachers may see these elements on repeat, year in and year out, for each young artist these representations and explorations in self-expression, are new.
Don’t rush children through their childhood to meet adult aesthetic expectations sooner than they need to.
Instead, appreciate that they are expressing joy and understanding of the world around them through these elements, and look for opportunities to inspire individual growth.
Art with Mea
IG: timea_oneteachersjourney, artwithmea
Artwork created by 5 & 6 year olds in my art room
*TAB website https://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/index.html
**child v. adult aesthetics in visual art
In visual arts education, educators can sometimes place more importance on art media and technique, with teachers consequently limiting and hindering a child’s creativity processes with adult-imposed goals or agendas (Plows, 2014; Vecchi, 2010; McWilliams, Brailsford Vaughns, O’Hara, Novotny & Kyle, 2014).
Parent, educator or school-based achievement learning agendas in the arts must be discouraged.
Jenson, K. (2018). Early childhood: Learning through visual art. He Kupu, 5 (3), 75-82. Available at https://www.hekupu.ac.nz/article/early-childhood-learning-through-visual-art
Art Lesson Link - exploring suns
Click the button below to be taken to our lesson plan SUMMER SPARKLE. One of the developments that it promotes is to celebrate those corner suns and modify them through the lens of an artist. These examples were created by 6 year olds in my art room.
Thoughts on Teaching
Stuck for ideas? Grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and settle in to read my teaching blog focused on all matters in teaching and Visual Art.