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Science

We’re beginning the registration process for this year’s Summer Science and Arts Program (June 11 – July 19) at Learning Circle Preschool. The summer program features an integrated science and arts curriculum. What does summer science look like?

There’s a way in which everything young children do is science. Using one’s senses to explore the environment, investigating how things work, expressing curiosity, asking questions, observing, and then integrating all that new information to make more, or new, sense of the world, are all central to how children learn and experience their world. Teachers can follow children’s lead, stimulate new thinking, encourage deeper considerations, offer new information and tools, suggest steps or approaches to try, and join in as children explore together.

Science might look like:

• Open-ended and child initiated explorations of materials and space in the environment, either individually or in small groups
• Discussions and investigations of materials, photos, or books brought to a group by teachers or children
• Use of tools to observe the environment, and then to document those observations to share with others or to compare with other related observations from day to day• Questions posed to individual children or a small group with a problem to solve or a topic to consider:

– Can we make waves in the water table? What is making those waves bigger?
– What do you notice happening when we mix these ingredients in the “potion”?
– Let’s look at how this plant is changing day by day…
– What living things are we sharing space with when we use our playground? – How can we see the wind?
– How can we move this ball faster (or more slowly) up or down the ramp system? – What do we know about….

• Collecting data and noting changes using documentation or charts and graphs over time
• Making predictions and guesses about what will happen when actions are taken

Teachers find the best topics by setting up a stimulating environment indoors and outdoors, and then engaging with children in that space, watching and listening carefully to collect information on what seem the most meaningful to children. Then we make sure the right tools and opportunities are available for children to pose questions, make predictions, observe, document, reflect, and share.

Science is everywhere!

Enjoy these photos featuring science experiences at LCP:

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Support for Learning

In a busy classroom there are many distractions that pull teachers away from their capacity to see the small details in what a child might be doing that would give clues about the important purposes or questions that are likely under consideration. If we want to see, value, and extend children’s ideas we teachers need to be fully present in the child’s moment, develop our capacities to observe, and assure that children know through our body language and interactions that we have fully joined them. Children know when we are truly listening and when we are distracted, and need our full attention in respectful interactions with teachers to learn deeply. This is true as we set a safe emotional social climate for children, and it is equally true when we try to understand what children know or are curious about in specific content areas.

A recent example of this came when a young 3-year old approached a game set up to put pom-poms in cups labeled 1-12 using tongs. We teachers imagined the task as a straightforward one, primarily supporting counting and number sense as children organized the cups in number order, read or asked about number symbols, and arranged pom-poms. We introduced our ideas about the basic task and joined children as they manipulated the tools and materials available to them.

This 3-year old clearly wanted me to stay and play and I was lucky enough to feel able to join her without needing to check in often on other classroom activities. She understood the basic task as we presented it, found the 1 and the 2 cup, and chose her pom-poms, clearly more interested in the tongs, the texture and the color of the pom-poms than in counting. She proceeded to take handfuls of pom-poms, filling and emptying cups, talking with me about their colors, and making piles. I left a few times as she played, promising to come back as soon as I could, and whenever I was there we chatted about her piles, colors, and her process. I occasionally asked an open-ended question like “I wonder where those need to go” but I mostly watched and described what I saw her doing.

As she worked, she started to try to take 3 pom-poms at a time in her tongs (after all her 3 -year old birthday wasn’t that long ago and 3 is an important number!) She took the 6 cup, in which she had already placed 3 pom-poms, and added 3 more and said, “Look at this, now I have 2 sets of 3 pom-poms!”

Looking at her first approach to this material, I might have easily made assumptions about her level of understanding of numbers, and underestimated her skills and understanding.  I might have tried to teach by pointing out how many pom-poms belonged in each cup. I might have missed her interest in the number 3 as she manipulated the tongs. And I might have undervalued her strong interested in sorting by color.

I might easily have missed her accurate use of the word “sets” as she added 3 pom-poms to 3 already in her cup labeled 6. If I did, I would have had less insight into conversations and experiences she is probably having with family, as I am fairly certain we haven’t introduced the word or concept of sets here at school.

Another example also came when a child was using math cards – building and/or extending patterns with bears in 3 sizes and colors. She called me over, proud to share that she had successfully matched the bears. She hadn’t tried to extend that pattern, so I simply asked “but what would come next?” That started an extended game with me, where she would choose a bear that matched one but not both attributes that would accurately complete the card as designed. We were both laughing and repeating “but what would come next?” Rather than correct or teach, I left it there and we moved on with our day’s activities. It was 2 days later that she called me over again, proudly sharing the same card, this time with the pattern extended.

Children learn in relationships, and deserve our full, uninterrupted attention whenever we can give it.

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First keyboards

Before the Thanksgiving break, children began exploring My First Keyboard Book by Sam Taplin. This book has scales and songs composed using color dots, and each key has the corresponding color on it. We noticed many children playing these books with a lot of interest and concentration.

We made the keyboards available for the children to play upon returning from the break. Children were spending more and more time playing these songs, so during a meeting time, teachers invited the class to compose a song.

We teachers displayed drawing tools that matched the colors of the keys along with paper that had both lines and open space. We then asked if anyone had an idea for the song, and many children started saying colors. After teachers recorded the colors requested, the class was asked to listen to how their song sounded. Teachers played the notes from the colors drawn, and this lead to conversations about high and low sounds.

We then asked the children if hearing the song made them think of anything. Some children responded that they thought of scales, so we drew stairs. Others responded that they thought of the ABC’s, so we made some letters to illustrate the song.

We invited the children to compose their own songs if they were interested. There were many different approaches to their song writing. Some children decided to play a few songs from the book before writing their own, while others chose to start their own idea right away. When writing, children would sometimes start by using colors to draw their notes and then illustrate a picture to go along with it. Others would start with a picture idea and then compose a song while thinking about their picture. A few children decided to find a song from the book they really liked and copied it onto their own piece of paper. Some even thought of songs that were not in the book and transcribed their own versions onto paper.

The children eagerly participated in this project, and some have composed multiple songs. Many have proudly played their own pieces for peers and teachers. Some even sung along as they played using their own invented lyrics or those of a familiar song. The focus these children have demonstrated while reading and playing the songs from the book and their own creations has been inspiring! Teachers are working on laminating each child’s first compositions so they can continue to play their own songs and each other’s songs. We will also support this interest by having pianists available for children to listen to and look at on the iPad.

A photo gallery of the children’s exploration of the keyboards is below, followed by some videos of their keyboard play.

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Thanksgiving Themes

Holidays and traditions are important parts of our lives, and they give us opportunities to reflect, feel connections to our histories, and share experiences with our families and friends. When we teachers are planning a meaningful Thanksgiving with preschoolers, we use conversations to help them:

1. Express their feelings and ideas about family gatherings
2. Begin to develop an understanding of history and the passage of time
3. Find out specific information about the past and make connections between the past and the present.

A focus on personal feelings, family gathering, sharing, helping, and working together, giving thanks, and making and giving gifts to others is of primary importance for young children.

It’s also true that many preschoolers have a variety of ideas and impressions about the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, and Native Americans. Quite a few of these impressions are inaccurate. The Thanksgiving holiday offers an opportunity to talk about features of past cultures in ways that connect to the children’s’ present lives and interests. It is important that whatever information is shared with children be accurate historically. Young children may be interested in talking about how:

1. People live in all kinds of houses now, and did in the past as well. All people need shelter. (If children are interested, comparisons can be made between the materials traditionally used in the past for housing among both Native Americans and early European settlers, and with modern materials used for housing.)
2. People make and use tools, now and in the past.
3. People cultivate and eat a variety of foods, and prepare them in a variety of ways.
4. People need clothing and wear a variety of clothing styles and materials.
5. People from different cultures have their own ways to celebrate holidays and may celebrate different holidays as well. People enjoy a variety of games, and have a variety of customs, but these customs often serve similar purposes.
6. People help each other when they share ideas and work together.
7. The places people live now did not always look the same way as they do now.
8. There are Native Americans now, as there were in the past; modern life is different for all of us.
9. Relatives of the Pilgrims live now; we live now and have relatives who lived in the past; and modern life is different for all of us.
10. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays we do.

This year we began to stimulate ideas about the past by encouraging children to investigate tools and other objects made from materials found in nature near us. We talked about how these tools were made recently using materials that people who lived in our area long ago might have used too. Children created pretend games with homemade cloth and corn husk dolls that could travel in wood or bark canoes. They tried on necklaces made of dyed corn kernels and thought about how the vibrant colors used might have been found. They pretend cooked using wooden mortar and pestles, and used clam shells for scoops. They incorporated woven mats and baskets into games and pretend. We played instruments made from natural materials. A rich display with diverse materials stimulates many connections to family experiences, and gives us opportunities to offer a sense of history in ways that are personally meaningful to the children.

From that beginning, we offered activities that gave children opportunities to create their own materials. Could we use scraps from our beautiful easel paintings to weave? Could we dye our own fabric with something from nature? Could we learn games that use stones or other natural materials as props or tools? Could we create musical patterns using drums, shakers, or other instruments made from found materials? Could we use sticks to create designs, shapes or letters?

Because the children enjoy books we can sing almost every day, we used a version of Over the River and Through the Woods (poem by Lydia Maria Child and illustrated by Christopher Manson) to strengthen connections between past and present. With each experience, children found more and more details in this book’s rich illustrations of things happening long ago and their own personal experience. Whether it is a trip to visit grandparents, foods at the table, games and outdoor experiences children enjoy in cold weather, or other details, repeated experiences with this songbook led to rich conversations about family experiences, and helped children understand that in the past people had similar feelings and experiences around family.

Cooking and harvest themes are central to family celebrations, and we’ve been sharing recipes as well. The children all spend time investigating squash, tasting many varieties of apples, and watching the changes colder weather brings to our beans and other plants growing outdoors in the gardens.

The whole school will be coming together for our own “feast” before we break for the Thanksgiving holiday, and every class has been busy making foods and gifts for everyone at school. The children are preparing apple sauce, a trail mix, and a vegetable-rich pasta salad to share at the feast. This offers children a way to anticipate together, and get ready for a special celebration. Each class has been preparing gifts for a school wide giveaway as well, This offers an opportunity to think about sharing resources, so that everyone in the school community receives something special from others. And it encourages children to work over time. This year we’ve been busy painting large clam shells, lacing, and preparing homemade bookmarks with beautiful results.

Families have developed a school tradition that we share as well. A parent created a small “tree” in our welcome room where children can talk about what they are thankful for, make a mark or have a grownup write a message about it, and hang it on the tree. The children have enjoyed watching leaves and messages get added, and those that are writing for themselves have spent time creating their own messages for the tree with teachers as well. This has become a lovely tradition that informally gives children lots of time to reflect on what it means to be thankful and on the many people and things we have to be thankful for.

We teachers had an opportunity to see that these experiences have been meaningful recently when we introduced a flannel board poem about giving thanks to our youngest children. In this story poem represented with pieces of felt, a child reflects on all the things to be thankful for – things we can hold, see, or hear. The focus of the poem is on good foods, and connections to the natural world. As each piece of felt was carefully placed on the board, the children were completely engaged and thoughtful. When the poem ended, there was a brief silence, and then children spontaneously began to share things they are thankful for in their own lives – family, activities shared, toys, and good foods.

Enjoy your celebrations!

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Early Sprouts at Learning Circle Preschool

Every year the teachers at Learning Circle Preschool identify areas of the program that we would like to focus on in more depth, improve, or refresh. This year one of those areas was our implementation of the Early Sprouts Curriculum.

As described on the webpage of the Early Sprouts Institute (http://www.earlysprouts.org/curriculum):

Early Sprouts is a research-based nutrition curriculum that encourages preschoolers to eat more vegetables by growing, harvesting, and preparing organically grown foods. It was developed as a collaboration between the Health Science and Early Childhood Education departments of Keene State College, New Hampshire. Over a course of 24 weeks, the curriculum cultivates healthy change by:

•Increasing young children’s preferences for wholesome foods

• Promoting healthy eating at school and home

• Reducing the risks and issues associated with childhood obesity

• Six target vegetables are the focus of the exploration and discovery in each of four components.

1. Organic gardening

2. Sensory exploration

3. Cooking and recipe development

4. Family involvement

A central theme of this curriculum is that we all benefit from repeated exposure to healthy foods. In the curriculum, exposures happen through sensory exploration of the vegetables, cooking the recipe, and packing ingredients to take home.

This year we decided to rush less, make sure as many children as possible have opportunities to engage with the early sprouts curriculum, and try to make it easier for parents to participate as well. We decided to be more intentional in assuring there is time for sensory exploration, separate from cooking.

On a day we aren’t cooking, we have designed small group opportunities for children to investigate the featured vegetable for that week. We may ask children to think about how they can open a pepper and then try. We may ask children to look for seeds as they snap green beans. We may tear chard, compare the colors and textures of chard stalks, and perhaps use crayons to do a rubbing so that we can feel the parts of the leaf as we work. We save the parts of the plants we won’t eat so that we can add it to our playground composter, to help keep our gardens healthy. These small group opportunities include a teacher to model, encourage children to use magnifiers and look for details, and to talk with children about comparative colors, sizes, textures, or smells of the vegetables. Follow up investigation might be included on the classroom science tables, where children freely use magnifiers, and where children are encouraged to draw or paint something about what they discover (document their findings).

On a different day later in the week when we cook, many children are involved in the process of preparing the recipe together, and then tasting the results at snack time. This is a time to share tastes (some will like it and some won’t like it yet), and think about the ingredients that went into the recipe. We’ve found conversations often include other family times children have tasted the featured vegetable, planted it, seen it growing at a local farm, or perhaps seen it at the market. And children often continue to talk about their investigations – finding the seeds, talking about the stems or leafy parts, etc.

Towards the end of the week, children pack a brown bag with as many of the ingredients as we can supply, along with a recipe, so that families have an easy way to try the recipe at home. We’ve found many children enjoy cooking with their families, even if they don’t like the recipe in question yet!

We’re only a few weeks into our school year, and we can already see that giving children more time to engage with the vegetables is making a huge difference. The enthusiasm with which recipes are shared with family members is clear, and many children are excited to bring their graph of family tastes back to school so that we can talk about their experience together. We’ve seen exposures to the foods, with no pressure to eat them, makes a difference. And we are hearing children recognize that their tastes may change over time. For example:

One child, who was in the class last year, when cooking with peppers said to a teacher, “Do you remember last year when I didn’t want to eat any peppers at lunch if they were in my lunch box? I didn’t like peppers yet. But then later I tried them, and I found out that now I really like peppers. My tastes changed – I didn’t like it yet but now I love them!”

Another child was eager to cut into tomatoes when we had child safe knives available to cut into them, look for seeds, and compare varieties. She insisted she would not eat any tomatoes as she did not like them. When a teacher gave her a spoon to scoop through the tomato to find seeds, she could not resist trying the juice, and found she liked it.

Here are some photos of the first few weeks of our early sprouts investigations. We look forward to a year filled with engaging investigations, healthy gardens, and good recipes to share!

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