Category Archives: Celebrations

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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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Community Building and Celebrations

The holiday season is approaching, and in our classrooms, many activities revolve around family, family gatherings, giving to others and diverse celebrations.

Our meeting discussions, books and activities stimulate many conversations about families. We find that children return to their photo albums to share family experiences together, and we’ve use books about diverse families to motivate children to draw their own families, and to think about the people they love who they consider family. For some in these discussions, family is the people (and pets) that live together, but for many children even the first family discussions include grandparents, cousins and other extended family. At this time of year, when so many children travel or participate in hosting extended family for gatherings, the concept of family extends.

Starting from this family focus, we begin to encourage children to extend their connections from family to a wider community. The school community also has people who care for each other, and offering opportunities to connect as a whole school gives children a concrete way to deepen relationships here. Our seasonal “feast” is one of the first whole school events that children plan, prepare for, and then enjoy together as a caring community. We want to encourage children to give something of themselves (their time, their conversation, their ideas, their food and gifts) as we come together to celebrate.

Our feast is a time for the whole school to gather for a special snack and sharing. We meet in the kindergarten room, share foods prepared with the children, sing songs, and participate in a traditional “give away” (a Native American custom of distributing gifts to the whole community). During the two weeks or so before the feast, children help plan and then cook food, (this year green beans, carrots, trail mix, apple sauce, and more). We make gifts so that each child will both give and receive gifts from other children (this year painted pine cones, necklaces and book marks). And we learn songs and games that we can enjoy together at the feast and throughout our school year together.

At the same time we talk about sharing ourselves with others, we encourage children to stretch their ideas about community even wider. This is a good time of year to begin to talk together about the neighborhoods we live in, and our connections to that wider community. And as we think about what everyone needs to feel safe and happy, we can start to talk about ways we can help our neighbors who might need something we can give.

One concrete way to do this is to ask families to support our giving projects for local food pantries serving the communities in which our children live. We begin at this time of year, but hope to continue right through the school year, with the generous support of our families. Children are encouraged to bring in a donation, and then work together to sort and bag whatever comes in, so that it’s ready to give.

This year’s feast was the culmination of lots of work and caring on the part of the children, full of conversation and good will. We wish all of you a peaceful holiday season!

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Seasonal Celebrations

As we move towards the holiday season, and as our days continue to grow shorter and darker, festivals that feature light are a natural way to begin to talk about diverse celebrations with the children. Whether it’s Diwali, the mid-autumn moon festivals, Halloween with its lit jack-o lanterns, Hanukkah, birthdays, or Christmas, light plays an important part in many family traditions, stories, and celebrations.

This year we began the discussion by making floating lanterns with the children, informed by Diwali celebrations. We found India on the globe, and looked at a variety of tools, fabrics, and artifacts from India. Children discovered that games we know, like chutes and ladders, come from India, and noticed that the wooden printing tools we looked at are very much like the tools we use for up and down printing here at school. We talked together about how family traditions often include family stories and that stories can be read in books, told and simply listened to, painted onto fabric or other media, or even danced.

After children decorated their lanterns and added “pretend light” to represent a candle, we filled our metal tray with water so that we could float our lanterns all together. We used tea lights in each lantern for a beautiful effect!

Children noticed that some of the lanterns floated but others sank (too little water? too heavy?) We added some water, and made some currents with our breath as wind to move as many lanterns as we could down the “river”.

A lovely shared experience!

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Learning Circle Preschool Food Day and Open House Friday Oct. 23rd

Join us on Friday October 23rd for Learning Circle Preschool activities planned as part of National Food Day. This event is an “open door” day for all school families and for the community as well.

In addition, beginning at 9 a.m., families interested in finding out more about the programs at Learning Circle Preschool can take part in an Open House (indoors).  It’s a good time for a tour of the space before going outdoors to join food day activities. Families can meet staff, see the facilities and tour classrooms while the children are in session. Then they may join outdoor Food Day activities.

Food Day is a nationwide movement for more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Families will be able to participate in outdoor activities with their children between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

The goals of encouraging children to eat “real food” – locally grown when possible – fit right into Food Day goals and Learning Circle Preschool’s use of the Early Sprouts curriculum, a “seed to table” gardening and nutrition curriculum first developed at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Components of the Early Sprouts curriculum address research that indicates young children are reluctant to try new foods unless they have multiple exposures that include a variety of experiences, including sensory exploration, tasting, and cooking. In a 24-week sequence of classroom activities using six common vegetables, children participate in sensory exploration, observations, and investigations of the vegetables and the plants from which they come. They help cook simple recipes at school, share them at snack, and then share those same recipes with their families at home.

We will have handouts and information relating to these and other Food Day themes for families.

Learning centers will be set up outside on the school’s playground (weather permitting) between 9:30 at 11 am including gardening, arts, and science activities. The focus of each activity will be on healthy food choices, where food comes from, investigating the science of some familiar vegetables, and planting.

In addition to vegetable printing, documenting and investigating vegetables, reading books about gardens and plants, cleaning out our garden beds and planting, a current school parent, who has extensive experience teaching adults about composting, will give a presentation about it and how it can benefit your family.

Weather permitting, we will also organize two walks for parents and their children to Brookwood Farm, a short distance from the school. An educator will lead discussion as parents, volunteers, and children follow a map to the farm, and participate in activities relating to healthy foods along the way. The first walk will leave at 9:30 am, and the second will leave at 10:30 am.

If it rains, we will have an indoor Food Day Festival – smaller scale but still fun. We are hoping for great weather!

So, Open House starting at 9am, Food Day activities starting at 9:30!

Hope you’ll join us Friday!

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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