Graduation time

Graduation is coming up for those children going on to kindergarten. This is a time of year that is special to us; and filled with mixed feelings. First, we are proud of the children who are moving on to kindergarten. Then we are sad; we are going to miss them. They have accomplished so much with us, and been through so much. Many of the children have been with the center for many years (three years for us, longer if you have infant care). In addition, things get crazy as those now-kindergartners do move on and we get a whole new classroom full of new children. Most likely these children are the younger ones and will have an adjustment period. But today we are focusing on the graduation. What do you do to celebrate this big step?

I don't have a graduation ceremony!!!
What?!? That's right! I don't have a graduation ceremony. I have a few outlooks on this: True graduation is cheapened by this. What's the great accomplishment in graduating college if you can graduate preschool? Second, I don't like putting children on display. Okay, that's really first. Most of the children couldn't care less about putting on a performance for the adults...and even more so they don't want to! So, a few years ago I sat down and thought: what is the purpose of graduation?
I came up with this simple answer:
To show the parents everything we have learned throughout the year.
It also involves somewhat of a "parent pleaser". What parent doesn't want to see their 4 year old in that little cap and gown? So, this is how I please them: I have cap and gown photographs taken about 3 weeks ahead of time. We use a company that gives us kickbacks from the sales of the pictures so it works as a fundraiser for us.
No the more difficult question: how do we show what the children have accomplished? I had the brilliant idea of having a carnival! That's right! We have a graduation carnival every year now. This is not just any carnival. We have about 10 booths that are manned by volunteers (the last few years we have been blessed by some marines to come and volunteer). The volunteers ARE NOT the parents of the graduates. The preschool parents have to do nothing for this event. It is strictly for them and their children. We decide on the booths by looking at our assessment forms. We use the DRDP-r so we look to that as we decide what the booths will be. Here are the booths:
Fishing game-children throw their poles over the wall and "catch" different shapes and colors of fish. When they get the fish, the tell us what shape and color it is.
Bean bag toss-the children are given a certain number of beanbags and shown a pattern. They then toss the next few bean bags onto the shape and colors that would come next in the pattern
Pin the tale on the number-on the poster are sections with groups of dots, in their hands are items with numerals written on them. They match the numeral in their hand to the number on the poster.
Feelings-the child draws a feeling out of a grab bag (a cartoon picture that shows an emotion). They then say what the feeling is and use a mirror to make a face that represents that emotion.
Obstacle course-we make an obstacle course that has things like over, under, through, as well as balancing jumping, and other key elements. At the end of the course they take a ball and throw it at a target.
Letter/sound matching-a poster with different letters and objects that start with that letter is hung. There is a piece of yarn connected to one side with a clothespin so they can match the letter to the sound.
Bean count guessing game-we have several different jars filled with different amounts of beans. The children get to guess (estimate) how many beans they thing are in there. Then they get to count them out.
How many will fit-there are empty jars and they need to guess how many scoops of flour will fit in.
Ordering-different size balls are grouped together. The children need to put the balls in order according to size
Grouping-three baskets are placed out and the children are given items of different colors (red, blue, yellow). They toss these items into the baskets to group them according to color
These activities can vary according to the children for the year, but that is the general idea. After the do an activity, they get a sticker. It doesn't matter if they do one activity 10 times or if they do each activity. It's up to them which activities they want to do (very much like our child centered classrooms). Once they get their 10 stickers, they can come to the prize table. Each child has a bag that is filled with little trinkets (we stay away from the candy). The trinkets, for the most part, represent things they could find in their classrooms: little animals, dress up necklaces, crayons, stickers, small games. The dollar tree is a perfect place to get these items. They have a wide range of selection that is perfect.
In their prize bag there is also a "certificate of graduation" from preschool and a CD full of pictures of them while they were at our school (from their very first day). The disc also includes a slide show made special for the graduates. This slide show is also shown on a continuous loop throughout the activities.
Remember those cap and gown pictures we took three weeks ago? Well, they have been delivered by now and we sell these at the graduation as well. This is a perfect time because the grandparents are there and are very willing to take out the checkbooks!
We also ask the other classrooms to bring in hot dogs, chips, salads, and drinks. This is the gift from the other classrooms. Then we buy a cake.
Before starting, we have a gathering place where I call all the children to come up to the front of the crowd. We sing some of our favorite songs (kind of campfire style). Then everyone stands and we do the pledge of allegiance. This is probably the only place that you can say the children are "put on display"; however, the are standing with their back to the adults as part of the group, and no one is uncomfortable. Plus, the adults are participating as well. After the pledge of allegiance is when we open the gate to the carnival area. It really is a very fun day!
Believe it or not, time ends up flying! We start graduation at about 10:30 and everyone is done by 12:00. Then, we clean up and allow the preschool teachers to take the rest of the day off. Since we do continuity of care, each teacher gets this opportunity every year (it's never the same teacher). The years that we have Marines volunteer, they end up having everything cleaned before we can even blink. They are a great help. You could easily rely on your volunteers to get everything done from set up to clean up. It takes a huge weight off your shoulders.
So, what do you do for your graduations?

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