Category Archives: Goldfinch

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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Is my child ready for kindergarten?

That’s a question we hear often. With kindergarten information meetings scheduled and registration for public school programs beginning, many parents of eligible children are thinking about their options, and trying to imagine how their children might fare. There are also families with children who are not “age eligible” for kindergarten. These families may be considering preschool options with the thought that their children might be ready for something different.

In both situations, a transitional kindergarten program can serve as a bridge and offer children the gift of time to develop socially, emotionally, physically or academically. At the Learning Circle, the curriculum is geared to meet the developmental needs of five year olds, but is adapted to meet the unique and individual needs of each child as they grow. Children are challenged in those areas in which they need challenge, and supported in those areas of development in which they are less secure. Class size is small to assure individual attention, and the setting is warm, flexible and nurturing. There are projects and other experiences that support skill development and challenge children academically, as well as extended time for creative use of open-ended materials and play. Having this extra year to grow can make a tremendous difference to children’s confidence in their ability to learn and express themselves fully in a school setting.

A transitional kindergarten program can serve as a bridge and offer children the gift of time to develop socially, emotionally, physically or academically.

Age eligibility for kindergarten may also be worth thinking about well before your child is five. If you have a younger child who will miss the age requirements for kindergarten when the time comes, you may see your almost three year old as ready to start preschool, but may worry about the prospect of three preschool years before kindergarten. If this is the case, consider asking questions about the ways each prospective program you visit can individualize curriculum so that your child is both supported and challenged at each point of their development. Considering these issues early can help reduce the number of transitions in your child’s early school experiences.

The Goldfinch class at the Learning Circle accepts older pre-k children who are not yet eligible for a public school kindergarten but who may benefit developmentally from a transitional class, as well as children who will make the transition to first grade in the following year. It is taught by Barbara Lapal, a certified, nurturing teacher who has taught in both public and private school settings at the pre-k and kindergarten level, and Anne Regnier, an experienced teacher of primary-age children with expertise in teaching, reading and literacy and with a background as a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher for the public schools. The program is highly individualized, the schedule is flexible, and the class can accommodate families that prefer an all day option (8:30-2:45 or longer on four days, with a half day on Friday), as well as those looking for half day and/or kindergarten enrichment options. Extended program options for any child at Learning Circle Preschool can be arranged between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the benefits of transitional kindergartens, we invite you to tour our school and speak directly with our teachers.

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Kindness

“I’ll get the soap for you” says a slightly taller child to a shorter one who couldn’t get the right angle on the soap dispenser.

At this time of year, teachers observe more and more spontaneous acts of kindness occurring in the classrooms. The children have had a few months in which to share experiences, get to know each other, and join community building activities and discussions with teachers. We see genuine caring expressed when a friend misses school, and children wonder together whether or not that friend is sick and if they will be returning soon. There are spontaneous gifts made and delivered to friends, spontaneous taking on of “helping” roles in the classroom, without prompting from teachers. It’s wonderful when we can begin to see our intentional support of the children’s sense of connection and community bearing fruit.

When we think about our classrooms, we teachers ask ourselves  “how can I notice, encourage, and then celebrate the acts of kindness that occur among the children?”

As we strengthen our own relationships with children, we are always aware that our most powerful teaching opportunities come through the model of our own interactions in the classroom. When teachers model kindness, respectful listening, forgiveness, and caring, children join.

We are also intentional about the ways our curriculum approaches can encourage children to appreciate diverse perspectives and learn to work together. This starts with simple activities that require working together or help from a friend.

For example, in a cooking project it helps to have someone hold the bowl for you when you stir. Each small contribution of an ingredient is a necessary addition to a finished product that we can all enjoy together – an everyday example of a whole bigger and better than each of it’s parts.

We make sure that there are many opportunities for children to collaborate on their work. A large box is much easier to paint with more than one child painting, and then it is available to everyone to use together. A long string can be laced from both ends. Floor puzzles may to be complicated for one, and exciting to complete with help. All these experiences support the notion that it is worthwhile to work with other people.

There are many classroom jobs that children can help each other with. Everyone is asked to write their name on a paper, but if a friend is willing to help with some tricky letters, children can learn from each other. We all must figure out how to file our papers or put our wet paintings on the drying rack, but sometimes a person appreciates a little help, and that help often comes from other children.

Once the environment has “set the stage” for children to see themselves as potential helpers, teachers make sure that helping and caring behavior is appreciated and recognized. Whether it’s as formal as a kindness bell system, where someone can ring a bell if they notice an act of kindness, or as spontaneous as a genuine thank you when a child sees a need and takes a kind action, we appreciate these successes and encourage all the children to appreciate them too.

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The Map Project Continues

We recently decided to continue our map project by asking the children a basic question: “What is a map”?

We hadn’t worked directly with maps for a while, though children often stopped to talk about some our previous work by looking at the hallway documentation of our processes. We thought many children would be interested in continuing the conversation, and we wanted to include children who had not had a chance to directly participate before.

It turns out that many children were eager to share their ideas about what maps are. In reading through the list of ideas, you’ll notice quite a range of ideas, and that led to a rich discussion. Are humans the only animals that map? Is it true that all maps must be carried? How could a map be made using wood? If I can use my brain to imagine, and then describe, how to get to my house, is that a kind of map or not?

Our next step as teachers will be to share our perspectives about the information we now have about the children’s thinking, so that we can choose some next steps together.

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We asked all the children the same question: What is a Map?

Goldfinch Class:

• A map is the things you remember of your home and you can follow it.
• If you don’t know where to go you have to make a map.
• You might want to take a trip and you might get lost.
• You need a map to know where to go and to be safe from danger.
• You use a map if you don’t know where to go.
• Humans follow maps.
• It’s like the mother and baby owl story…She doesn’t need a map in the woods. She used her big eyes to see in the dark.
• Your brain is a map that is part of your body. Your brain can remember.
• A map is a piece of paper. It rolls up. It can be cardboard or wood. You have to be able to take it with you.
• Mice can’t follow maps.
• Pretend animals might use maps.

Nuthatch Class:

• A map is a thing that leads you all around the world.
• A map is a thing that tells you where to go.
• Some maps can talk. On phones phone maps can tell you where to go. Like Siri.
• You use a map when you don’t know where to go.
• All maps show you where to go.
• You’d look at a map.

Chickadee Class:

• A map is like in a car…
• You just draw a map.
• You use a map to have it lead you somewhere.
• Like to treasure chests – to find gold or silver inside.
• You walk and you look where you go on the map and the map tells you where to go.

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