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First keyboards

Before the Thanksgiving break, children began exploring My First Keyboard Book by Sam Taplin. This book has scales and songs composed using color dots, and each key has the corresponding color on it. We noticed many children playing these books with a lot of interest and concentration.

We made the keyboards available for the children to play upon returning from the break. Children were spending more and more time playing these songs, so during a meeting time, teachers invited the class to compose a song.

We teachers displayed drawing tools that matched the colors of the keys along with paper that had both lines and open space. We then asked if anyone had an idea for the song, and many children started saying colors. After teachers recorded the colors requested, the class was asked to listen to how their song sounded. Teachers played the notes from the colors drawn, and this lead to conversations about high and low sounds.

We then asked the children if hearing the song made them think of anything. Some children responded that they thought of scales, so we drew stairs. Others responded that they thought of the ABC’s, so we made some letters to illustrate the song.

We invited the children to compose their own songs if they were interested. There were many different approaches to their song writing. Some children decided to play a few songs from the book before writing their own, while others chose to start their own idea right away. When writing, children would sometimes start by using colors to draw their notes and then illustrate a picture to go along with it. Others would start with a picture idea and then compose a song while thinking about their picture. A few children decided to find a song from the book they really liked and copied it onto their own piece of paper. Some even thought of songs that were not in the book and transcribed their own versions onto paper.

The children eagerly participated in this project, and some have composed multiple songs. Many have proudly played their own pieces for peers and teachers. Some even sung along as they played using their own invented lyrics or those of a familiar song. The focus these children have demonstrated while reading and playing the songs from the book and their own creations has been inspiring! Teachers are working on laminating each child’s first compositions so they can continue to play their own songs and each other’s songs. We will also support this interest by having pianists available for children to listen to and look at on the iPad.

A photo gallery of the children’s exploration of the keyboards is below, followed by some videos of their keyboard play.

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Thanksgiving Themes

Holidays and traditions are important parts of our lives, and they give us opportunities to reflect, feel connections to our histories, and share experiences with our families and friends. When we teachers are planning a meaningful Thanksgiving with preschoolers, we use conversations to help them:

1. Express their feelings and ideas about family gatherings
2. Begin to develop an understanding of history and the passage of time
3. Find out specific information about the past and make connections between the past and the present.

A focus on personal feelings, family gathering, sharing, helping, and working together, giving thanks, and making and giving gifts to others is of primary importance for young children.

It’s also true that many preschoolers have a variety of ideas and impressions about the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, and Native Americans. Quite a few of these impressions are inaccurate. The Thanksgiving holiday offers an opportunity to talk about features of past cultures in ways that connect to the children’s’ present lives and interests. It is important that whatever information is shared with children be accurate historically. Young children may be interested in talking about how:

1. People live in all kinds of houses now, and did in the past as well. All people need shelter. (If children are interested, comparisons can be made between the materials traditionally used in the past for housing among both Native Americans and early European settlers, and with modern materials used for housing.)
2. People make and use tools, now and in the past.
3. People cultivate and eat a variety of foods, and prepare them in a variety of ways.
4. People need clothing and wear a variety of clothing styles and materials.
5. People from different cultures have their own ways to celebrate holidays and may celebrate different holidays as well. People enjoy a variety of games, and have a variety of customs, but these customs often serve similar purposes.
6. People help each other when they share ideas and work together.
7. The places people live now did not always look the same way as they do now.
8. There are Native Americans now, as there were in the past; modern life is different for all of us.
9. Relatives of the Pilgrims live now; we live now and have relatives who lived in the past; and modern life is different for all of us.
10. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays we do.

This year we began to stimulate ideas about the past by encouraging children to investigate tools and other objects made from materials found in nature near us. We talked about how these tools were made recently using materials that people who lived in our area long ago might have used too. Children created pretend games with homemade cloth and corn husk dolls that could travel in wood or bark canoes. They tried on necklaces made of dyed corn kernels and thought about how the vibrant colors used might have been found. They pretend cooked using wooden mortar and pestles, and used clam shells for scoops. They incorporated woven mats and baskets into games and pretend. We played instruments made from natural materials. A rich display with diverse materials stimulates many connections to family experiences, and gives us opportunities to offer a sense of history in ways that are personally meaningful to the children.

From that beginning, we offered activities that gave children opportunities to create their own materials. Could we use scraps from our beautiful easel paintings to weave? Could we dye our own fabric with something from nature? Could we learn games that use stones or other natural materials as props or tools? Could we create musical patterns using drums, shakers, or other instruments made from found materials? Could we use sticks to create designs, shapes or letters?

Because the children enjoy books we can sing almost every day, we used a version of Over the River and Through the Woods (poem by Lydia Maria Child and illustrated by Christopher Manson) to strengthen connections between past and present. With each experience, children found more and more details in this book’s rich illustrations of things happening long ago and their own personal experience. Whether it is a trip to visit grandparents, foods at the table, games and outdoor experiences children enjoy in cold weather, or other details, repeated experiences with this songbook led to rich conversations about family experiences, and helped children understand that in the past people had similar feelings and experiences around family.

Cooking and harvest themes are central to family celebrations, and we’ve been sharing recipes as well. The children all spend time investigating squash, tasting many varieties of apples, and watching the changes colder weather brings to our beans and other plants growing outdoors in the gardens.

The whole school will be coming together for our own “feast” before we break for the Thanksgiving holiday, and every class has been busy making foods and gifts for everyone at school. The children are preparing apple sauce, a trail mix, and a vegetable-rich pasta salad to share at the feast. This offers children a way to anticipate together, and get ready for a special celebration. Each class has been preparing gifts for a school wide giveaway as well, This offers an opportunity to think about sharing resources, so that everyone in the school community receives something special from others. And it encourages children to work over time. This year we’ve been busy painting large clam shells, lacing, and preparing homemade bookmarks with beautiful results.

Families have developed a school tradition that we share as well. A parent created a small “tree” in our welcome room where children can talk about what they are thankful for, make a mark or have a grownup write a message about it, and hang it on the tree. The children have enjoyed watching leaves and messages get added, and those that are writing for themselves have spent time creating their own messages for the tree with teachers as well. This has become a lovely tradition that informally gives children lots of time to reflect on what it means to be thankful and on the many people and things we have to be thankful for.

We teachers had an opportunity to see that these experiences have been meaningful recently when we introduced a flannel board poem about giving thanks to our youngest children. In this story poem represented with pieces of felt, a child reflects on all the things to be thankful for – things we can hold, see, or hear. The focus of the poem is on good foods, and connections to the natural world. As each piece of felt was carefully placed on the board, the children were completely engaged and thoughtful. When the poem ended, there was a brief silence, and then children spontaneously began to share things they are thankful for in their own lives – family, activities shared, toys, and good foods.

Enjoy your celebrations!

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Early Sprouts at Learning Circle Preschool

Every year the teachers at Learning Circle Preschool identify areas of the program that we would like to focus on in more depth, improve, or refresh. This year one of those areas was our implementation of the Early Sprouts Curriculum.

As described on the webpage of the Early Sprouts Institute (http://www.earlysprouts.org/curriculum):

Early Sprouts is a research-based nutrition curriculum that encourages preschoolers to eat more vegetables by growing, harvesting, and preparing organically grown foods. It was developed as a collaboration between the Health Science and Early Childhood Education departments of Keene State College, New Hampshire. Over a course of 24 weeks, the curriculum cultivates healthy change by:

•Increasing young children’s preferences for wholesome foods

• Promoting healthy eating at school and home

• Reducing the risks and issues associated with childhood obesity

• Six target vegetables are the focus of the exploration and discovery in each of four components.

1. Organic gardening

2. Sensory exploration

3. Cooking and recipe development

4. Family involvement

A central theme of this curriculum is that we all benefit from repeated exposure to healthy foods. In the curriculum, exposures happen through sensory exploration of the vegetables, cooking the recipe, and packing ingredients to take home.

This year we decided to rush less, make sure as many children as possible have opportunities to engage with the early sprouts curriculum, and try to make it easier for parents to participate as well. We decided to be more intentional in assuring there is time for sensory exploration, separate from cooking.

On a day we aren’t cooking, we have designed small group opportunities for children to investigate the featured vegetable for that week. We may ask children to think about how they can open a pepper and then try. We may ask children to look for seeds as they snap green beans. We may tear chard, compare the colors and textures of chard stalks, and perhaps use crayons to do a rubbing so that we can feel the parts of the leaf as we work. We save the parts of the plants we won’t eat so that we can add it to our playground composter, to help keep our gardens healthy. These small group opportunities include a teacher to model, encourage children to use magnifiers and look for details, and to talk with children about comparative colors, sizes, textures, or smells of the vegetables. Follow up investigation might be included on the classroom science tables, where children freely use magnifiers, and where children are encouraged to draw or paint something about what they discover (document their findings).

On a different day later in the week when we cook, many children are involved in the process of preparing the recipe together, and then tasting the results at snack time. This is a time to share tastes (some will like it and some won’t like it yet), and think about the ingredients that went into the recipe. We’ve found conversations often include other family times children have tasted the featured vegetable, planted it, seen it growing at a local farm, or perhaps seen it at the market. And children often continue to talk about their investigations – finding the seeds, talking about the stems or leafy parts, etc.

Towards the end of the week, children pack a brown bag with as many of the ingredients as we can supply, along with a recipe, so that families have an easy way to try the recipe at home. We’ve found many children enjoy cooking with their families, even if they don’t like the recipe in question yet!

We’re only a few weeks into our school year, and we can already see that giving children more time to engage with the vegetables is making a huge difference. The enthusiasm with which recipes are shared with family members is clear, and many children are excited to bring their graph of family tastes back to school so that we can talk about their experience together. We’ve seen exposures to the foods, with no pressure to eat them, makes a difference. And we are hearing children recognize that their tastes may change over time. For example:

One child, who was in the class last year, when cooking with peppers said to a teacher, “Do you remember last year when I didn’t want to eat any peppers at lunch if they were in my lunch box? I didn’t like peppers yet. But then later I tried them, and I found out that now I really like peppers. My tastes changed – I didn’t like it yet but now I love them!”

Another child was eager to cut into tomatoes when we had child safe knives available to cut into them, look for seeds, and compare varieties. She insisted she would not eat any tomatoes as she did not like them. When a teacher gave her a spoon to scoop through the tomato to find seeds, she could not resist trying the juice, and found she liked it.

Here are some photos of the first few weeks of our early sprouts investigations. We look forward to a year filled with engaging investigations, healthy gardens, and good recipes to share!

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Beginnings

As a new school year begins, we know we’ll be thinking about ways we can help children develop a sense of community, getting to know each other well, sharing experiences and ideas, making connections. There are always systems we can use from year to year to help this process along. For example, we know that if children have photo albums in the classroom with photos of themselves and their families, they’ll use those albums first for personal comfort and to have a sense of their family’s presence in the classroom, then begin to talk about the photos and share with teachers and classmates. Soon children will approach each other, even without a teacher, for these conversations, and to set up spontaneous meetings so that they can share common experiences and talk about home.

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Sometimes children find their own way to build community, and think about why and how they might form relationships. In this year’s youngest group, it was conversations about shoes that got this process started.

We noticed that a few children consistently compared their shoes and feet when they sat side by side at meetings or other whole group times. We’d hear whispering as children wondered who has the biggest shoe. For a few children body size was part of the conversation as well. One child, when learning the name of another child said during the first week of school, “You are a baby because you are so small, but you do have many good words!”

It is by listening to these quiet conversations that teachers can often find important themes to incorporate into child-driven projects. Happily, in the case described above, the physically smaller child was pleased to be noticed and accepted the friendly tone of the bigger child, so that when a teacher joined to clarify that people of all ages are all different sizes, that you could be bigger or smaller when you were older and that our classroom had school children but no babies, play and friendly conversations moved on easily. But it did become clear that whether or not we teachers brought it up, children were looking at each other and making comparisons as one of their strategies to get to know each other.

We decided to offer a project about shoe sizes, since many children were interested in the sizes of shoes and feet. We started by taking photos of everyone’s shoes, since children thought this would be helpful. We did find we could identify which shoes belonged to each child in the photo, but looking at the photos didn’t really help us know much about the relative sizes of shoes and feet.

On another day, we offered unifix (small blocks, all the same size, that connect) as a way to compare shoe and foot size. If we knew that some shoes were longer and needed more blocks to be the same size, those must be the bigger shoes! At meeting, everyone who wanted to have a turn estimated how many unifix would be needed for their shoes, and we discovered that most had shoes 9 unifix long, some had longer shoes (10 unifix), and some had shorter shoes (8 unifix).

Many children continued to measure various parts of their bodies (primarily arms and legs) and some measured their whole length. The process of measuring brought children with similar interests together, and we found that there was an interest in finding ways to share materials and ideas for the sake of this beginning collaboration.

We haven’t pushed further on these activities, but are listening carefully as we find many children continue think about how big they are now that they come to school. One child made a row of unifix and said, “This is how big I was when I was a baby; I’m bigger now.” Others have begun to share the many things they can do for themselves now that they are bigger, and we often talk about how small the children were as babies as a point of comparison to their size and skills now that they are school children. We’ll keep this interest in measurement in mind as we continue to offer children opportunities to find common experiences that can form the foundations of their relationships and community building.

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“Organic” Math

This year many of our youngest children (primarily 3 year olds) showed strong interests in math, and an opportunity to collaborate on a big mathematical problem came up on our last day of school.

We have been using a rolling calendar all year, marking the number of days we’ve shared at school, and watching the roll of paper get bigger and bigger. Our plan was to unroll the paper on the last day so that we could see how long our school year was. We also planned to cut the paper up afterwards, so that each child could take a part of their school year home.

Rather than lead this process completely, a teacher asked an “I wonder” question once the children marked day number 163 on the calendar:

“I wonder how we could figure out how many days each child can bring home today. We have 163 days and we have 15 children here.”

Many children spontaneously began to share their estimations – (“we’ll each get 2… I think 8…I think 4…. I think more than that…”)

Someone pointed out that we could figure it out if we had something to count. A teacher thought out loud about what we had 163 of in the classroom and remembered that we have many periwinkles, and the children thought we should count out 163 of them. When the teacher pointed out that this would be a very big job, and asked if they really wanted to do all that counting, many children enthusiastically said yes.

At this point, the children needed a bit of guidance, so a teacher suggested that we could count the 163 shells and then make a pile of shells for each child from those 163. Then, if we counted each pile, we’d know how many days could travel home with each child.

Again, teachers asked children to think about how big the job would be. We’d have to find a big enough space for 15 piles, and make sure no one combined piles, or moved them until we had counted out all the shells. About half the group decided they would get the job done.

It took a long time, but we did manage to count out the shells and create 15 piles. And children discovered that some would take home 11 numbers, and some only 10, but that was ok because we only had 163 days.

Before cutting our days, we worked together to unroll the calendar to see how long it was. Too long for the hallway! By this time everyone was working together, since it took all 15 children to hold “our year” in place.

The level of interest and enthusiasm for taking on this counting challenge was quite impressive, as was the children’s capacity to stay on task for the extended time it took for all this counting to happen. Although the children weren’t ready to figure out on their own how to divide 163 into parts, once that suggestion was made, they helped each other stay on track, count accurately, make sure there was a pile for everyone, check their work, and then call on others to help manage the long length of paper representing our year.

Every child was involved in the project – each at his or her own level, each with his or her own approach, some counting by tens, some by ones, listening to and learning from each other. Contrast the learning that comes out of an experience like this to the learning that comes out of drill or worksheets.

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