Making Sense of a Changed School Environment

As we prepared for re-opening this fall, we had many of the same underlying questions that many educators of young children have shared:

• What will distancing look like for preschoolers?
• Will many children struggle with the necessity of wearing a mask?
• How will children feel about the need to connect socially with teachers and peers, but keep a physical distance?
• Will the program still look and feel developmentally appropriate, joyful and driven by the interests of each group of children?
• Will small and larger group project interests grow organically within each group, even within new constraints and protocols?

It turns out we didn’t need to worry as much as we did, but to trust the children and see them as the capable and resourceful individuals they are. We can confirm that taking the time to set the environment carefully with our values in mind, and taking the time to watch and listen to the children has led us to a multitude of engaging beginnings and projects. Through this process, we have re-discovered that some of the important developmental business of the children is to move towards mastery of the environment, even an environment with new and unfamiliar constraints, using all the opportunities offered as experiences unfold.

Our meetings may look different at first glance, but still offer opportunities to greet and listen to each other, share informal conversations and think together about “big ideas” that come up in our days together. Opportunities to investigate, ask questions, share our theories and knowledge, and then document our current thinking about the world are a part of every day, indoors and outdoors. We see projects unfolding in every classroom – around self and family, seeds and plants, seasonal changes, insects, owls and other animals that share our environment outdoors, story-telling, and story writing. Children are listening to each other, learning from each other, and following each other’s lead as they play and learn together.

Now that the children are settling into our new routines, we are beginning to see that children are becoming able to spontaneously maintain the protocols of distancing for safety even as they develop their play themes and share experiences. Under the play structure outdoors, where children often meet for pretend games and conversation, we see spontaneous small groups settling in at an appropriate distance as pretend themes are developed each day. We are beginning to observe that when one child goes over to play an instrument on the playground, it’s now common for others to join at a different instrument – connecting the idea and the music at some distance. When children run together, or wait for a turn on the balance beam or to use an obstacle course, we see them giving each other space without a teacher’s reminder more and more. Children create their own small groups to read, share photos or talk together, giving each other appropriate space. When investigating a sunflower, we see one child at each end of the table more and more. In other words, by setting up a clear expectation and interest in considering each other (it’s kind to wear a mask and give each other space as it shows we are thinking of each other), children are beginning to move towards mastery of their environment here at school, and are increasingly able to find their own creative and thoughtful ways to connect, share, learn and grow together.

As you look at this set of photos, all chosen to illustrate how children are connecting and learning together, I hope you’ll consider how this evidence of competence and resilience is unfolding after such a short time (just 4 or 5 weeks) together.

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Virtual Tour of Learning Circle Preschool

We are scheduled to re-open this fall, and look forward to the opportunity to re-connect in person with the children and family members who are part of our school community. There will be many necessary changes in our day at school, but what will not change is our interest in helping children feel connected and listened to, our individualized approach to curriculum development, our attention to the environment in support of each child’s growing sense of competence and independence, our interest in supporting each child’s expanding sense of community, and our understanding that developing on-going and meaningful projects for the children is strengthened and informed by our partnerships with families.

It is unfortunate that we will not be able to invite current or prospective families into our classrooms this fall. The virtual tour you see below may give you a sense of what our space is like and about some typical daily activities at the school.

Please email or call the school for additional information about the school and/or about the enrollment process. Registrations for September 2021 will begin to be accepted this fall.

 

A Turtle and Tortoise Project with a Focus on Helping Keep Wildlife Safe

In her article, The Project Approach to Early Childhood Education, Lilian Katz, PhD. highlights how projects support children’s “dispositions to be curious, to make sense of experience and to explore the environment.” Projects offer children opportunities to investigate a topic in depth and they are an important approach to learning at our school.

The teachers here at LCP incorporate many features described in Dr. Katz’s article: choosing an interesting and meaningful topic, encouraging children to generate questions to investigate, making predictions, comparing and reflecting on results and representing theories and ideas through a variety of media. We also stress the collaborative nature of projects to help support a “community of learners” in which we value the ideas and contributions of each child while reinforcing that our experiences are enriched and deepened by the perspectives and insights of others.

Take a recent project on Turtles and Tortoises. The project began when a child at lunch mentioned that his family re-uses their straws. Children asked why and he said that they do it to “save the turtles” All the children were interested in hearing more.

As children shared what they know about turtles, it became clear that some children wondered about how a turtle and a tortoise are different, and wondered if all turtles live in water. So before thinking more about how straws impact turtles, the group decided to find out more about both turtles and tortoises and clarify the differences between them. In the process, the children generated a list of questions they wanted to research.

Where to research? Teachers offered a variety of books with information and small groups looked at photos and other related information online. (Although as a school we don’t use computers much, we do take advantage of photos, live cams and other videos from museums, researchers and other reputable sources to enrich classroom research).
Children then took opportunities to express what they learned through clay work and drawings.

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As children collected answers to some of their questions, conversations returned to the problem of straws for turtles and to thinking about how the choices people make have impact on the health and safety of wildlife.

The children generated a list of possible next steps and actions to take, including contacting the New England Aquarium to see if someone would talk to the children or share resources, and making a flyer that could be shared with other people about ways to help keep turtles safe.

The children worked together to dictate a letter to the Aquarium and sent it. Although the letter itself did not receive a response, a call made to the Aquarium did lead to a conversation between New England Aquarium staff and teachers, leading to new ideas and  resources for the children.

The children worked together to create a flyer and helped distribute it to everyone in our school. There was some talk of bringing the flyer to our local libraries so that the children’s message could impact a larger community – a firm decision about that hasn’t been made yet.

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Just as Dr. Katz suggests in her article, the Turtle and Tortoise project offers children strong motivation to develop their academic skills as they expand vocabulary, document through both pictures and words, measure and compare, make predictions, and collect information from books as they make connections to their personal experience and knowledge. And this project offered children the opportunity to take personal action on behalf of the turtles – to use what they found out in a meaningful way to try to make a difference and help.

Some projects will last all year. Others, like the Turtle and Tortoise Project, have a clear beginning, middle and end. Not every project will involve every child. But it’s exciting to watch them develop!

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Story, Reading, Writing and Getting to Know Each Other

One of the things we are interested in doing at the beginning of a school year (and now that we have been here a few weeks) is offer children ways to know each better, share their perspectives and ideas, listen to each other well, and begin to express their ideas through language, drawing and writing. All of this is to say we are interested in helping children understand the many values of communication and that we can communicate our feelings and ideas to each other now, write about them so that we can remember and share them at another time, and read books and/or pictures to help us communicate with others we may not know with knowledge or ideas we’d like to connect with.

There are many ways this is happening in each classroom. We talk together about ourselves and family, often using photo albums, books, and family photos. In one class, we started the year with a family project that asked everyone to bring something small in that represents a summer memory, and that has led to rich conversations about the experiences that are important to us. In another class, children made a collaborative book with pages representing each child’s summer memories. When children draw, paint, or build, we invite conversations and stories about their ideas and often write these down so that they can be remembered and shared at another time. Children in every class have started using journals so that drawings, writings and stories can be collected over time in school.

We sing and dance our stories too – either using books with songs, improvised movement ideas, or songs and stories that we can act out together. Many children have already discovered the power of puppets for telling a story, and are taking turns as puppeteers and audience members. We’ve been inspired to use chalk outdoors after reading and thinking about the experiences of a character in the book A Piece of Chalk and have collected leaves after reading Leaf Man so that we can make leaf people or animals of our own. We’ve used flannel pieces to retell familiar songs and stories with a visual component that children can manipulate on their own.

We are already finding ways to document our ideas and questions that arise from investigations and constructions as well. This might happen after building at blocks or out on the playground when we find insects or look at changes in the garden.

In each case, our goal is to encourage community through shared language and experience.

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Helping Children Notice and Engage

As we begin our school year together, it’s important to teachers at LCP to encourage habits of observation and engagement in our environment.

Our outdoor time offers important beginnings. What do we see when we look up? What do we see when we look down and under? What are the properties of the natural materials we have available on the playground – sand, water, mud, grass, or stones? Where are the best running spaces? Where can we see and play with our shadows? How does it feel to be under a cherry tree? If we use chalk or other materials to represent our ideas and create, do they change if we add water? Can we find ways to see the wind? How are the leaves that are falling from the trees the same and different? Can we find seeds? What’s growing in our gardens? How can tools like our story boards and magnifiers stimulate deeper investigations?

At the beginning of our school year we are also purposeful in our support of community, connections, and collaboration. Are children investigating together and sharing their discoveries? Can we set up the environment so that children are encouraged to work together to solve problems with materials in the environment? Are there materials or tools available every day that require the participation of more than one child? How can we teachers encourage child to child helping and caring?

Today we are in the middle of our second week of school. There are so many stories and beginning connections already!

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