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.

Literacy Family “Open Door” Day

Our latest Family “Open Door Day” was focused on literacy and young children. After joining a parent discussion, family members joined their children in the classroom where teachers had set up centers featuring a variety of playful literacy activities. Teachers also posted suggestions for play and the rational behind using these materials. The final element was a documentation wall featuring photos of children engaged in playful literacy activities, along with sample work.

What a terrific turnout we had! We were happy to see so many family members spending the morning with us, and the children were so pleased to have their families participate at school!

There was a lot to talk about, but some highlights from our discussion follow:

  • Foundations ideally focus on reading and writing as communication – children who understand the values of these activities will learn the complex set of inter-related skills associated with reading and writing because they are excited about learning, connecting, remembering, and sharing ideas
  • Spend lots of time reading with children at home and at school
  • Good readers develop strong language skills and knowledge of words:
    o Children need environments in which they experience language in meaningful contexts (children need lots of meaningful experiences to talk about!)
    o Language develops through talking, singing, interacting, and social play
    o Children need to feel they are listened to – the responsiveness of adults in children’s lives to their language is crucial
  • Read high quality literature to children:
    o Children develop language and vocabulary through interactions around reading literature
    o Children become comfortable with the differences between book language and conversational language
    o Children develop an understanding of story structures
  • Support children’s growing phonological awareness:
    o Children develop awareness of the sound structure of language
    o Word play, rhyming, musical activities, use of nursery rhymes all support phonological awareness
  • Support comprehension:
    o Children need context and background knowledge to draw on as they develop comprehension skills
    o Encourage children to talk about book content, share ideas, make connections to their own experience, and ask questions
  • Writing depends on sound physical development, which can be supported in a wide variety of sensory experiences and informal activities that support each child’s use of their fingers and hands
  • It takes time before children understand that writing is recorded speech
  • To write letters, children need to understand that letters are symbols that come together to represent sounds and meaning.
  • Symbolic thinking is supported by pretend play.
  • Writing skills grow out of drawing – encourage children to make a mark!
  • With experience and by noticing more and more details, children discover that lines come together to form letters (how letters look), and then that letters are used to form words

There is a lot going on as children move along the continuum of learning in their own way. We can take cues from the children, support their interests, encourage conversations, questions, and finding out more about interesting topics, make sure there is time for meaningful pretend play, and enjoy a wide variety of books and stories together!

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