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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Starting a New School Year

School is an exciting place in the fall for parents, teachers, and children. It can also be a bit frightening for us. It takes time for everyone to adjust to new situations and new people. For some children, coming to school is the first opportunity to develop friendships outside of the immediate family. Children returning to school for a second or third year will be facing new classrooms, new teachers, and new classmates. And they will be approaching the school environment from a changed perspective, since they have grown since the last school year.

We teachers also go through a period of adjustment in the fall, as we get to know the children better, gaining insight into personalities, needs, and learning styles, over time. It takes a while to get to know how we can best encourage individual children to make the emotional connections so important for a successful classroom experience. We teachers will also need time to get to know parents, hoping to find ways to encourage parents to feel comfortable about their child’s program, and comfortable bringing concerns about the program to us.

Parents are going through an adjustment too. You may be wondering how your child will like a new classroom, and whether or not he or she will get along with teachers. You may be concerned about how quickly your child’s teachers will find the unique qualities that make your child such a special individual, or wonder if your child will be able to form friendships quickly. You might be uncertain about how to bring up a suggestion or concern you have, wondering how your child’s teachers will react.

If we as adults experience some anxiety about the beginning of school ourselves, it should come as no surprise that some children may express ambivalent feelings about this new beginning.

If your child is anxious about coming to school, or is experiencing a tearful separation from you on school days, try to remember that the feelings these behaviors may represent are natural, not uncommon, and they will pass as familiarity with the school routine and trust in teachers develop. Learning to acknowledge one’s feelings and express them is, in itself, an important step for your child. He or she will find that teachers (as well as parents) can offer caring and sympathetic assistance, and that other people (children and adults) have felt the same feelings in their lives. Try to remember also that tears at separation do not necessarily represent unhappiness in school, but may be an expression of the temporary difficulty a child experiences at the moment of saying good-by to a parent. In fact, most children are able to begin their day happily within minutes of their parent’s leaving. Sadness passes as enthusiasm for the materials, experiences, and people associated with school take over.

As children and parents together become increasingly comfortable with, and knowledgeable about, the routines and expectations of a day at school, and as children experience the fact that parents do indeed return at pick up time for children, reassurances offered at the beginning of the school day will be able to ease the transition from home to school.

Practical Advice to Parents with Children Experiencing Anxiety at Separation

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 toy, book, photo of a family member, note, etc. This connection to home can be very reassuring.

Helpful Phrases When It’s Time to Say Good-by:

“I know it’s hard to say good-by”
“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.”

It’s great to look for books in the library for book titles that relate to children’s’ feelings of separation, loss, friendship, school routine, and/or developing self-image and independence. These are all important themes at the beginning of a new school year.

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Summer Science and Arts

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to think about summer programs!

We’re beginning the registration process for this year’s Summer Science and Arts Program (June 10 – July 18) at Learning Circle Preschool. The program runs Monday – Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.  with children coming either two days or four, bringing a lunch (peanut and hard nut  free please!) The program is conducted almost completely outdoors, except when it rains.  And the beautiful expansive playground is a cool and breezy place to play even on quite hot days.

The program features an integrated arts curriculum with a focus on the natural sciences, art, music, and creative movement – with lots of time for story-telling, drama and puppetry, too. There are small groups every day, along with time for snack, free play activities, and outdoor play and exploration. The groups are organized with each child’s experience, development, and individual styles and preferences in mind.

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!

Here are some photos from last year’s program.

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