Connections and Curriculum

As we start our school year together in a classroom of very young children that we don’t know well yet, we are looking for interests everyone shares that can give shape to our developing curriculum and can help children make connections across many experiences. We want to encourage children to engage with materials and learn more about how to use classroom tools and media and we hope that children will begin to connect socially at the same time – talking together, helping each other find what’s needed, sharing ideas and experiences, and beginning to notice the things children have in common as well as the differences in approach or experience that we can all learn from and appreciate.

Teachers often think about very open-ended themes or projects to get his process started – looking at the environment, thinking about color, making a mark, telling stories all offer beginnings that can unfold in multiple ways over time.

An example this year has been color as an organizing idea around the classroom. We began by encouraging children to use primary colors at the easel and at collage as we introduced these classroom spaces to the children. When we used glue at collage with a variety of colorful circles, would children notice colors? Sort colors? When children created their first paintings, would they keep primary colors “clean” or would they begin mixing experiments right away? Would line or filling a whole page be the primary interest or would color be an organizer? When we introduced children to classroom puzzles or color cubes what could we observe about the children’s understanding of and thinking about color as they constructed? Our observations inform decisions about experiences to offer next, and help us understand how children are thinking about the experiences we share, even when they might not be ready to tell us much about their ideas yet.

Right from the beginning of our year, we’ve had children very interested in using color as an organizer as they sort, create patterns and construct. We’ve had children interested in naming (labeling) colors And we’ve had many children mixing, experimenting, and investigating the multiple shades that can be created when colors are combined. With these approaches and interests in mind, we could offer a wider variety of classroom experiences that we knew would be engaging and offer rich opportunities for the children to connect.

At the easels, we’ve encouraged children to focus their interest in shades of color by changing the color combinations offered. One week might focus on yellows and blues so that a variety of greens could be easily created. Another week might focus on yellows and reds, or reds and blues. When the primary colors returned, we observed a more purposeful investigation of color mixing, and the conversations about shades of color have engaged more and more children. At our weekly paper day, when children share work with classmates before it travels home, many children describe the ways they thought about color to create as they painted.

We offered a variety of books that feature color, so that conversations could continue in a new way. Books featuring fall leaves, and books like Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh or Mix It Up by Herve Tullet have been read and re-read often. Mouse Paint became so important to the children that we decided to extend its themes into our first fingertip and hand painting experiences and for collaborative retelling and drama experiences.

When we were ready to cook our first recipe using tomatoes, we made sure that we investigated many kinds of tomatoes – with different colors as well as sizes. We used these investigations to introduce documentation to the children, encouraging them to talk about, observe carefully, and then draw the varieties they were interested in.

At the science table, we’ve been mixing colors in muffin tins filled with water. Primary watercolors are in 3 of the tins, and children used a pipette to move colors in and out of the water, so that they can create a variety of shades and colors. Including transparent color viewers, mixing tools, and seasonal vegetables at the table enriches the conversation about shades of color, mixing color, and seasonal changes. A favorite activity is to take a viewer and look at the classroom and classmates through yellow, or blue, or red.

And now that the leaves are changing, we are well prepared to look for color in nature. We’ve offered a bed of leaves for pretend woodland animals to shelter in on one of our side tables, encourage children to look up and out of our classroom window often to notice the changes outdoors, and are beginning to investigate changes outdoors as well.

This is one example of how in a busy classroom informed by child interest one thing leads naturally to another. The same process is unfolding in storytelling, making a mark, looking at the environment, thinking about letters and words, and in many other rich investigations that are on-going every day.

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Beginning Observations and Investigations

At Learning Circle Preschool, we teachers are very interested in discovering ways to encourage children to develop their capacity to take time to look at the world carefully, investigate, and document what they see, think about, or feel. We may share our own observations as we join children in theirs, encouraging conversation and shared perspectives. We offer a variety of materials in the classroom and outdoors that we hope will inspire children to take some time to investigate on their own or with other children. And we introduce a variety of media and tools that over time we hope children will learn to use to document their observations and their understanding about what they experience.

We’ve just completed our second week of school, and this process is well under way in each classroom. We’ve watched children in their second or third year at Learning Circle begin to apply their past experiences with these approaches and tools to represent their current understanding and interests. And it hasn’t taken long for children new to these approaches to join in.

Children have investigated different types of heirloom tomatoes, comparing size, weight, color, and shape together in small and larger group meeting discussions, and then spent time with magnifiers and drawing tools to record their observations. Others have talked together about the parts of plants as they observe fall flowers, and draw or paint details and colors as they talk with teachers about their observations. Outdoors, children find a variety of leaves and seeds, and spend time drawing them. Children observe a crab in our saltwater tank, and draw details of what they see.

A few children with a keen interest in ocean life used books to research and talk about sea life, and then spontaneously painted important details of those animals at the easel.

And some children have begun the process of thinking about their own play through drawing, as they document their processes and ideas after constructing with blocks.

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We teachers work hard to create an environment in which children will find the rich materials I’ve mentioned, among many others, and feel the freedom to experience these materials directly, making their own connections, drawing on their previous experiences, to learn about nature and themselves in a deep way.


Beginning a New School Year

Fall, 2016

It’s common for children to experience some anxiety at the beginning of a new school year, even if they are returning to a school and to people that they know well. There are so many adjustments to make – summer activities are ending, daily routines may change, there may be new teachers and children to get to know. And the children themselves have grown and may be thinking about their upcoming school experiences in new ways.

Some children adjust to change very quickly and others will need more time. Many experts suggest that it’s not uncommon for children to experience typical separation anxiety for up to ten days before routines settle in.  Your consistent positive support can make a big difference as children form deeper relationships with their teachers, who will be their primary supports while they are here at school. Remember that it’s ok for children to take the time they need, and that each child’s feelings need acknowledgement and understanding. And while acknowledging feelings, family members can set up consistent routines, kindly but firmly remind children when you’ll be together again, and develop strategies together that help ease the transition period.

Here are some practical tips to think about:

1. Look for the special ways your child handles the transition time comfortably; take your cues from your child.

2. Support your child – try to be positive. Children are very sensitive to your ambivalent feelings; these can represent doubt to your child, and add to his or her sense of insecurity.

3. If you enter the classroom and choose an activity to aid in your child’s transition, choose something that has a definite end (puzzle, book, etc.). Let your child know that upon completion of this activity, you will be leaving. Then stick to it.

4. It is helpful for some children to bring something from home – a favorite stuffed toy, book, photo of a family member, note, etc. This connection to home can be very reassuring.

Here are some helpful phrases you might use when it’s time to say good-by:

“I know it’s hard to say good-by.” “Mom and dad will always come back.”

“This is a special place, just for children.” “Will you make me (daddy, sister, etc.) a special drawing today?”

“I’ll be back to pick you up at lunch time.”

“Have a fun day.”

I’ve included some links below to articles on NAEYC’s “For Families” website with more tips on handling transitions into school:

A Few Thoughts on Separation Anxiety

Tips for Easing School-Time Anxiety from a Mom Who’s Been There

13 Tips for Starting Preschool

Have a Concern about School? Tips for Talking to the Teacher

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Observeing a caterpillar on the playground

Summer Science

The summer program at Learning Circle Preschool 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:
–  How can we make this pump work better?
– 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 indoor 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 of our first few weeks together.

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Storytelling, updated

It’s spring again, and this year’s chickadees (our youngest class) are immersing themselves in stories, storytelling, and beginning writing. As I began to think about sharing some of the current stories they have created to act out together, I discovered the following post from last spring that describes their processes well. Here are a few samples of first stories:

Once upon a time there was a dragon. It was a dinosaur too. Two more T-rexes! And 2 more dragons. The dragons had fire. There was a volcano. The volcano didn’t have fire. The T-Rex said “Stomp!” He stomped his foot. There was a truck. He threw the truck. He was building a tower. He finished the tower. The End.

Once upon a time, I was a blue princess wearing a pink dress. Rapunzel came. And a dragon came. And he blow fire. “Hi, friendly dragon!” And rain came down. And we had tea. The children had snacks. The End

Once upon a time, there was a princess, a queen, and a prince and a king. And a dragon came. And Andrasandra came too, to watch. The king and the queen were scared. Everybody was scared. They ran away, The dragon said, “I’m a friendly dragon!” They said, “Hi, hi new friend!” The End

Once upon a time there was a princess. One was a knight. There was a dragon. It was a mean one. That one was supposed to be nice but it wasn’t. He blows fire. The princess, the knight and everyone else runs away. The dragon leaves adn he runs away. The princess the knight and the people come back to the castle. They drive to Boston in their car. The End.

Once upon a time there was a big dragon. A baby dragon. And there was a big dragon that blow fire at his dog’s house. It caused fire! And the fireman came in and sprayed water. And then they build a new dog house for them. The dog said, “Hey, that’s a good house!” The End

Once upon a time a princess came. A dragon came. There was a wizard. The wizard was a baby dragon. The a birdie came up. Then a spider was on the wizard’s shoulder. Then a bird went into the tree. Then a pizza box went into the trash. The End

Once upon a time, I was with my dad. And my mom. And my brother. I was bringing my brother in school in the bus. Grandma and Grandpa came. The End

It’s clear from this sample that many children collect ideas and themes from other children and develop them to make them their own.

The original post with more detail about how story acting supports storytelling  among 3 year children at Learning Circle follows:

Throughout our school year, we have been finding a variety of ways to encourage the children to think about story forms and storytelling. We’ve told “dream stories” at meeting, retold favorite folktales with flannel pieces, and enjoyed books together. We’ve sung stories and songs, and used books or song cards to help choose songs and remember them. We’ve used favorite books and stories to create our own props for plays and acted out stories. We’ve encouraged children to “tell about” their work, whether it was at the easel, in journals, or in block or dramatic play. We’ve asked children to talk with parents about favorite stories, and found out that parents often share their favorites from childhood with their children.

Following the model offered by Vivian Paley (loosely) we have also encouraged children to write stories that we can act out as a class. To write such a story, children sit in the “writing chair” to dictate their ideas. Stories must fit on one half page of paper (that way we have had more time to give everyone a turn) and include no illustrations. Children simply tell a teacher the words to write down, and then the teacher reads the story back to its author.

Later in the day, roles are assigned at a story telling meeting. The author chooses a role to act out, and we go around the circle asking for other volunteers. We’ve found that because we offer the next role to the next child (regardless of gender, etc) children have gained an understanding of pretend and acting (Girls can be princes and boys princesses; we can be animals even if we are people, because we are pretending and we need to help tell the story). The actors stand up to act out the story, narrated by a teacher, while other children become the audience.

We have two short videos of this storytelling process in the two day class, and have some sample stories written down. Every child participated in the story acting experience. Some have preferred to act out stories told by friends, and some prefer the audience role right now. Every part in the storytelling process is an important one.

We’ve noticed that children have clear themes that recur in their stories. Some of these themes are related to ideas from friends, so look for similarities between stories written on or near the same date.

Look for the writing patterns in the stories as well. A basic story follows along like a list (And he did it, And she did it, etc.) We often ask children “And then what happened?” to move a story forward.

Those children who have included many characters figured out early in the process that if we have more characters, more children are actually in the story when it is told. It has not been uncommon for teachers to be the only audience.

We hope you enjoy this sampling of our beginning stories.

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For families with children currently at the school, you may log in at this link to see some short videos of children acting out their stories.