Monthly Archives: November 2014

Last year's whole school feast

Holiday Celebrations with Young Children

At Learning Circle, we’ve been thinking about the beginning of the holiday season from the children’s perspective, and offering concrete ways for the children to participate, plan, and celebrate together. At school, holiday celebrations and preparations are intentionally kept low-key and are guided by the interests and needs of individual children. As children informally share their own family traditions at class meeting or other discussions, they begin to appreciate the diverse ways families celebrate. Teachers listen carefully and offer opportunities for children to prepare for the holidays in ways meaningful to them – making a gift or card, talking about a trip or family visit with friends, sharing special foods, singing songs, or dancing together.

Every year the children enjoy a school-wide Thanksgiving feast. We bring in conversations and activities about “long ago”, a time when people needed to find, grow and prepare their own food, to build their own shelters to keep warm as the seasons changed. We talk about many of the things we have to be thankful for – families that care for and love us, enough food to eat, houses to live in, heat to keep us warm in the winter, enough clothing for each season, and good friends. Each class prepares gifts for a school wide “give-away”. Based on Native American traditions, the give away is an opportunity for children to fill baskets with hand made gifts. At our Thanksgiving feast, each child will choose one gift from each classroom basket. This year we are painting beautiful seashells, making bookmarks, and stringing beads to give as gifts. Each class also cooks for the feast. This year’s menu includes pasta with fresh garlic and tomato sauce, green beans, and fruit salad.

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At home, we know that along with the happy expectation of a holiday gathering with family and friends, come changes in our usual routine and often some pressure to meet deadlines. As the holidays draw closer, changes may include increased shopping trips, more time spent in the kitchen selecting and preparing a specially selected recipe, possibly re-arranging furniture to accommodate guests. There may be purchasing or getting holiday clothing ready for the holidays or packing and planning for an anticipated trip.

Children are affected by these changes. For young children especially, consistency of routine and an understanding of what’s happening next can be an important foundation in their sense of security. When young children notice changes in routine they may feel anxious or insecure. They may exhibit negative behavior, acting out or seeking attention, as a signal that they need some help with these feelings.

It’s important for parents to find ways to help children feel involved in holiday preparations. This involvement helps alleviate potential stress or insecurity, and helps to assure that the holidays offer opportunities for young children to grow and feel connected to extended family and family traditions.

If you will be traveling, talk with your child about family plans. Allow children to make some choices about what to take, and remember favorite items. This helps children with the transition of getting ready. If the trip includes visits to family, children can be encouraged to bring something meaningful to them as gifts, such as drawings or paintings.

If you are planning a gathering at home, it is helpful to involve children in planning and preparations for the day. Children can contribute to decisions about what to wear, may be able to help decide seat placement at the table, or may help prepare a simple recipe, such as cutting fruit or preparing a salad.

Adults might also want to avoid the pull towards the commercialism of the holidays by choosing toys and gifts that support play. Good toys for young children are open-ended; they can be used in a variety of ways. They offer play value over time; as children change and grow new ideas can be realized. They are well made, and will last over time, even with hard and varied use. They are not tied to TV programs, movies, or other media, so that play ideas come from each child’s imagination and not from an external source.

For more information and a wide variety of articles and resources on the impact media has on young children, try www.commercialfreechildhood.org, the website of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

For more information on toys, play, and young children, try TRUCE: www.truceteachers.org, the website for Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment

Decorating a box to make a boat

Thoughts on How Children Grow and Learn

We’ve now had two opportunities to think together about Priscilla Sloane’s recent presentation on Brain Development and Sensory Learning. A few parents joined a “drop-in” discussion one early morning, and others joined our monthly evening discussion that was part of our November Board meeting. Here are some of the “big ideas” we’ve been thinking about together:

  • Early experiences have an impact on physical development and on brain development.
  • Sensory and motor learning create a link to language, social skills, and emotional development. For example:
    • A child must be able to lift his or her head to take in facial expressions and establish eye contact – both part of early language development
  • It’s important to connect children’s current behavior with their developmental history. For example:
    • A child who tires easily, is always leaning or can’t sit at the table, may have low muscle tone
    • A child who moves too quickly or is always running may have been an early walker and had less time engaged in weight -bearing activities earlier in development. Using speed can compensate for having less control.

Children think and learn through physical activity. They need many varied opportunities to take action in their environment, experiencing a full range of tactile and sensory experiences. Children need opportunities to use open-ended materials over time that can be used in diverse and increasingly complex ways. These materials require children to problem-solve and create their own meaningful experiences, so that play ideas come from each child’s imagination and not from an external source.

We can encourage children through both our interactions and through the materials and activities we offer:

  • Model “give and take” in conversations, so that children listen as well as talk, use eye contact, experience conversations where they both give and receive full attention
  • Encourage games that require taking turns and eye contact
  • Resist the temptation to “rush” into paper work or abstract learning too early. Children need a full range of tactile/sensory experiences to develop physically. For example:
    • Offer materials that require finger work and strength – playdough, putty, clay, crayons (more than markers that require very little pressure), sand, fingerpaint, pipettes, tongs, etc.
    • Use vertical surfaces for play whenever possible to support muscle development
  • Encourage open-ended interactions with natural materials outdoors
  • Encourage pretend play and other child-organized play
  • Think about the amount of time children are spending with ipads or other technology. Using these materials too much takes time and interest away from more foundational activities.

As we approach the holiday season, it’s a good time to think about how you can best support active, hands-on learning. Remember that “less can be more” – simple open-ended materials often offer the best play value. TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) has posted a useful “Toys, Play, and Young Children Action Guide” that gives a great overview of the value of play, some good toy options, and what parents can do to support their children’s optimal growth and development. Check out the guide here and look over other resources that TRUCE has on their website too. For example, you’ll find “Family Play Plans” that have a collection of simple ideas for family activities with basic materials like cardboard boxes, playdough, mud, chalk, or water:

TRUCE Toy Action Guide

TRUCE website

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Using natural materials to build with outdoors

Learning Circle Preschool Open Houses, Dec. 9th, 9 a.m. and Dec.10, 7:30 p.m.

The Learning Circle Preschool and Kindergarten offers visits to prospective parents.

The Learning Circle Preschool, a non-profit preschool and kindergarten program at the foot of the Blue Hills on the Milton/Canton border, is offering prospective parents and their children the opportunity to visit its facilities at 3 Blue Hill River Road, Canton, MA. The visits, held during school hours, give parents and children a chance to meet with director Katrina Selawsky, to talk about each family’s specific needs, and to see the classrooms while children are in session.

Learning Circle Preschool, accredited by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) offers morning programs with two, three, or five-day options, afternoon enrichment programs, and extended day options that run until 4:30 pm five days per week. Facilities include three state of the art, open, sunny and spacious classrooms, a welcome room with library and a spacious playground at the foot of the Blue Hills, a short walk from Brookwood Farm.

With a curriculum inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, children enjoy engaging, hands on experiences that build a strong foundation for learning with individual attention and project work in small groups, respectful and nurturing interactions, opportunities to plan, reflect on, and work on projects over time, and an integrated language arts, creative arts and science curriculum.

Parents enjoy on-going communication, detailed documentation of each child’s growth and development shared in a portfolio system, newsletters and other written information about the program distributed regularly, parent meetings and discussion groups on educational and parenting issues, and a welcoming attitude towards parent participation in the program.

Class sizes typically range from 10-14 students, each with two highly qualified and experienced co-teachers. Decisions about placements for the fall of 2015 will begin to be made in December. Families that would like to consider a January start can make individual plans for a transition into the program then.  For more information or an appointment, please call Katrina at 781-828-4800.

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Goldfinch present their work to the Chickadee Class

Community Building by Map-Making

We teachers have been talking with parents about how important it is, right at the beginning of the school year, to establish a strong sense of community among the children and teachers. It’s essential for creating the kind of environment where children feel safe and connected socially. We do this in part by talking together with the children about families, sharing photos, thinking about our samenesses and differences, remembering our experiences from previous school years together, and re-connecting with old classmates who may now be our “neighbors” in another class. This year, children expressed an interest in maps and we saw an opportunity to connect children to the school environment and to help form a cohesive whole-school community.

Our map-making project began early in the year spontaneously from conversations in the Goldfinch class. To extend the children’s interest, Anne and Barbara looked at a variety of maps with the children and read a wonderful big book called “Me on the Map” that featured a child thinking about maps of her room, house, street, larger community, out to the whole earth. This led to a class decision to make a map of the school playground.

There were many steps to making a map, especially when the goal was to get children working together. To begin, the Goldfinch children:

  • began to pay attention to different areas of the playground
  • took photographs of the different parts of the playground
  • placed a photo on the playground map (the children had to think about what areas were next to each other and which areas were across from each other)
  • checked their ideas by taking the map outside to see if everything was in the right spot.

After making some adjustments the children added the grass, the paved bike path, the woodchips and other details to the map.

This first step in the project finished, teachers noticed that the children were interested in doing more with maps. Some children extended the project by making pirate maps, maps of their bedroom and maps of the inside of our school. A Goldfinch child who starts his day in the Chickadee class early morning program shared his mapmaking interest with children in the Chickadee class. Before long, there were some interesting new maps that now had details important to children in the Chickadee class too!

When Stacey, Katrina, Anne, and Barbara talked about the children’s map-making interests at a planning meeting, it became clear that the project could be extended across two classrooms. We wondered about how Chickadees and Goldfinch could work together on maps. Would the children make individual maps or work together? Would they continue to map certain parts of the school and then put them together? Develop working relationships through map-making by focusing on common interests? Explore the school environment as a whole (inside and outside) though map-making? Simply meet occasionally to share their work and interests?

We decided to reserve judgment. We’d begin by asking the Goldfinch children to come in the Chickadee classroom, talk about the maps they had made and present their work. After a great discussion, it became clear that children from both classes wanted to continue to map our school. They decided that a good next step would be to map the hallway outside the Chickadee classroom, where lettuce and other plants are growing under grow lights. Children volunteered to join small groups, deciding each child should each make his or her own map after walking the hallway together. We were ready for the next step.

But it turned out that we didn’t work in small groups. Instead, the Chickadee and Goldfinch classes walked through the hallway together to investigate details that would need to be included on the maps, and set to work on individual maps. Some children from the Nuthatch class joined in. The results of the children’s work are hanging on the wall outside the Chickadee classroom. We expect that after children take some time to look over the diverse approaches to map-making on display there, we’ll be adding more steps to this on-going project.

What started as an interest among two or three children grew into a project involving children from three classrooms. Teachers listened carefully and recognized the children’s knowledge about and interests in maps. Teachers then worked out an approach to a map-making project that came to include all interested children in a developing process of exploring our environment and marking down the things most important to them.

For some children, it’s the people that are important to include in a map of the school. For others, it’s the shape of the building, including ceiling height and roof shape that matter. One child mapped our view of the Great Blue Hill with its trails, bird’s nests, and natural features. Many children were interested in finding all the exit signs, fire extinguishers, and doorways that are part of our school. As each child views other children’s work, everyone’s experience with map-making will be enriched. With the opportunity to talk about all these diverse approaches, all the children will have a concrete experience together that reinforces our connections to each other across a whole school community.

Map-making lets children use drawing to reflect their knowledge and current thinking about their immediate environment. It helps children take the time to notice details that are important in that environment, especially the important landmarks that help define our relationship to the space we share. Map-making helps children see their environment from diverse perspectives. When working on maps collaboratively, children begin to realize that each person’s vision of and relationship to their environment is unique. It helps children think about and experience space and spatial relationships in a concrete and meaningful way.

What happens next? The choices children make about their “next steps” in a map-making process will guide us. We may find that mapping the home environment (bedrooms or neighborhoods) offers the children ways to share more about their family lives. We may continue to map our school, and find other connections to the common spaces we share. Whatever develops, we teachers will be listening!

Has your child made any maps at home? Please share your mapping stories – it will help us know how to continue this project!

Learning Circle Preschool is now open 5 days a week to 4:30 pm!

We are pleased to let families know that we have worked out a good solution to the problem that earlier dismissal times on Fridays create for some of our families.

Our Friday schedule has been a dilemma for us. Teachers need to have extended time to plan together, to talk about the children’s needs, and to develop new skills. We’ve been hesitant to add programming that could jeopardize our ability to offer children and families a program that is built around the specific individual interests, learning styles, and needs of the children enrolled.

But teachers also have been aware that there are families who find it extremely challenging to work out a mid-day pickup on Friday, and we know that families who value our program’s approach have at times been unable to work out the complicated logistics of a lunchtime pickup for even one day, and haven’t been able to join our community.

We feel lucky to have found a good friend of Learning Circle Preschool who has agreed to help us out on Friday afternoons. She is a parent of two alumni of the school, a past Board member, taught with us in last year’s summer program, and loves and values the mission of the school.

We’ll be able to start a Friday enrichment program this year, and the program will continue next year.
We teachers feel that this is a terrific way for us to be able to reach out to families who need to simplify their complicated schedules. It feels great when we can find a way to address family concerns without compromising our values or the needs of the children and their teachers.

If you are interested in using a Friday afternoon enrichment program this year, please let a teacher know. And if you know a family that might be able to consider LCP with this additional support for those on a out-of-home work schedule, please help us share the news about this important change in our schedule as we move into our enrollment cycle for the 2015-16 academic year.