Yay! For the third year in a row I’ve been able to lure 5 year-olds and their teachers into a room with the outlines of letters, and then cajole them into filling them up with natural materials as well as objects from around their classrooms.
There are so many things going on with this project. Kids have to work their spatial relationship muscles. They use fine motor skills. They make decisions. They bond with the letters that they create. If you have more time and talent than I have with this sort of thing, you get to use these letters to get kids to talk about shapes, curves, angles, enclosed areas, diagonals and more. OH, I just read a post that I recommend, modelling ways of getting kids to talk about shapes and relationships: https://jennalaib.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/mathematical-connections-in-a-kindergarten-science-unit/
This is a remarkably beautiful project. Still, it helps to keep certain things in mind.
If you’d like to try out doing this, here are my main tips:
- Don’t use fill items that are white or that are black
- If you are going to try to remove the backgrounds in Photoshop use a solid color background around the letters. I use a white background. Don’t use things with feathery edges (like feathers) as part of the fill material
- Usually, the more stuff that the kids pile on within the outlines, the better the final letter looks. Nudge them into remembering to mind the outlines.
- Pre-K can do this independently, but it’s great to have a number of adults around
- Have students sort materials into appropriate piles when done.
The picture above show how I do the photography: I use camera that can shoot raw files, with a table top tripod. Kids have to stand back so that the table doesn’t shake as I shoot with something like an f-stop of 18 and long exposure. Of course you can use a phone camera, but I am crazy and I want the end product to be awesome as possible. The very first time I brought this expensive camera into a classroom I cracked the screen in the back. Oh well. It works, has character and now I am more careful.
I like having the children work in pairs, though there’s generally someone who wants to do this activity solo. That’s okay too. Seems to me that these young people can fill in two letters before they start to lose interest. They love the natural materials. We absolutely spend time just talking about, touching, smelling and hearing something about the items we’re using before we start. This year I walked around the yard with my husband collecting little frozen pine cones, taking cutting from spruce trees, and harvesting wild cucumber and milkweed pods, I also snipped away at our indoor mint plant and picked some geranium flowers. Then I went to the grocery store and bought about $20.00 worth of flowers.
After all the letters have been photographed I go home and spend way too much time fussing with the images so they will print out well. At this particular school I work closely with the librarian, who has a great color copier on her desk. She helps with printing out and collating pages which is really great because I’m always pressed for time by now, not to mention somewhat brain-impaired from having had too much screen time fussing with photos and layout.
Everybody gets to take home a book! Teachers get full-page copies of each letter. From what I’ve heard, in the past they’ve even shared the letters with the French teacher for when she’s teaching letters to her students.
Now, finally, just for the record, I’ve made a video of how I isolate the letters from the background in Photoshop. This is not one of those slick Photoshop tutorial videos that people in the know know how to do. Honestly, it’s just to remind me of what I’ve figured out works best so that, when I do this next year, I won’t have to, once again, start from scratch figuring what buttons to press.