Category Archives: Philosophy

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The Importance of Family at Learning Circle Preschool

At Learning Circle Preschool, we want to make sure there’s a family presence in each classroom and that families feel welcome to participate in school life. We do it in a variety of ways. Having family photos in every classroom, available every day, helps assure that there are on-going conversations among the children about the people important in their lives. Looking at photos of family activities and trips also helps children become more aware of the many experiences we share, and of some of the ways in which we may be different.

There’s nothing like a classroom visit to help a family member get a concrete sense of classroom life and what the school experience means to the children. It’s a lovely way to get a look into what school is like for each child.

Some parents are curious about something a child’s teachers mentioned at a recent conference. Others enjoy sharing a favorite recipe on a day the class is cooking. Some like to help teachers support children, maybe by sitting with children and writing down their ideas as they dictate descriptions of drawings and stories to add to their writing journals. Some come to help take photos of classroom activities or projects. Many family members like to read with children, perhaps to help celebrate a child’s birthday, or for no special reason. Some family members just come to sit and watch for a while, or join the class outdoors.

Some family members help us offer special events and experiences for the children that we wouldn’t be able to offer without them. Joining a class on a field trip, planting a tree or weeding the gardens, or helping out at our annual Food Day celebration are examples of some of the ways family members directly engage with the children and curriculum.

We hope that family members will feel welcome to celebrate their family cultures with the school community as well. We’ve had family members come in to teach children a second language, or read bi-lingual books. Some family members have shared food, games, or other traditions with the children. Others have sent children postcards from places they have traveled or where extended family lives. Some share skills and work experiences. Every year the mix is different, and we celebrate each contribution to our program with the children.

It’s also great to look forward to our annual family events, when children and parents spend time together. Some of these times are entirely social, like our farm days at Pakeen Farm in the fall, or our annual multicultural Family Luncheon each spring. Some have an educational component, like our open door days when we encourage family members to play with their children in the classrooms to learn about how children learn and why we do what we do. Some events celebrate the season, like our annual Family Dance right before the winter holiday break. Some are as informal as our beginning year playdates when families and children get to know each other on the playground or when families invite each other to meet and play after school at Houghton’s Pond.

Children feel validated and that their school life is important when their families participate. Children feel connected and valued when it’s clear that important people at school value their home lives and experiences. Children feel safe and trust the school environment when they see and feel their family member’s trust. Every year our efforts look a little different, but we hope to help build a community that connects grownups and children alike!

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feast

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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Trying to Warm the Ice

Beginning Investigations of Ice

With this frigid weather we’ve been having lately, it seemed like a good time to introduce the chickadee children to an investigation of ice.

It’s easy to underestimate the powerful learning that can happen when children are encouraged to wonder more deeply about the properties of something in their everyday experience. All the children have had previous experience with ice and cold. What would they wonder about if we put out a few ice blocks? Would they notice the crystals and bubbles that formed as the ice hardened? Would they notice changes in the ice blocks over time as the ice melted, and would they have the language to describe those changes? Would they be interested in sliding the ice across the galvanized steel tabletop tray we offered, and would they notice the water droplets, and then puddles, that formed paths as the ice moved across the tray?

For most children, their first investigation at the ice table was a tentative one. “What’s this?” “It’s ice!” “It’s cold!” Fingertips touched, pulled away quickly and then touched again. When a teacher suggested rubbing hands and fingers together to keep warm, a game of touching ice and then rubbing hands together, giggling, quickly developed.

A few children returned to the table multiple times through the day, and then through the week. Some brought magnifiers to see crystals more closely. One child noticed that when he tried to push the ice it was stuck to the tray at first. When it melted a bit it was easy to slide. He came to the table often, trying to push the pieces of ice faster and faster across the tray as the ice melted.

As the children noticed the ice melting, many asked, “What happened to the ice?” In these moments teachers repeat the question rather than answering it. It’s the process of exploration and wondering that leads children to their own discoveries, and having an answer is often less important than that process. What did happen to the ice? Children said, “The ice is disappearing!” A few children clarified for others that the ice was melting (they had the word) but many did not. Instead, noticing the disappearing ice, children put their fingers first on the ice, and then on the deepening puddles of water next to the ice. What’s going on here?

It was a surprise to teachers that the most intriguing question that children investigated this week came from one child’s interest in warming the ice. “The ice is too cold – how can we warm it?” Teachers simply said, “I wonder”. She decided that putting a paper towel on the ice should warm it (after all, going under a blanket warms us doesn’t it?) This began a weeklong investigation involving many children as they placed paper towels on ice, found that some got wet, others stuck to the ice, and none really warmed it up. What’s going on here?

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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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When is a leaf an egg?

When three-year-old children investigate together, we teachers model a process of looking, collecting information, and testing ideas. This is a scientific approach, but because the children are three, a form of magical thinking can override their direct observations.

The children had been thinking together about leaves, fall colors, and the shapes and sizes of leaves.

I brought in a large hosta leaf from my garden that I thought would make some beautiful crayon rubbings.

At meeting, I brought crayons and the leaf, sandwiched between two pieces of paper on a clipboard so that the children could see only a shadow of its shape. I told them that I brought something for them to investigate together.

I held up the covered leaf and asked them if they had ideas about what I brought. As I held it up, I rubbed the leaf shape with my hand.

Children were engaged and curious, but at first no one had an idea to share. They agreed they saw a shadow and one child suggested there was a mystery.

Then a child said, “It’s an egg!” I replied, “You see an egg,” and agreed that the oval shape we saw in the shadow looked like the shape of an egg. I then used the opportunity to talk about flat vs. three-dimensional shapes, following up on previous conversations and interests among the children.

I suggested that the eggs I had seen could be held and looked at from all sides – that they fit in your hand. I pretended I had an egg in my hand and showed them it’s pretend shape. I pointed out again that what we were looking at was flat, and I rubbed the paper, asking if the children agreed it was flat like the paper – that we could see a flat shape that couldn’t be held like an egg.

Yes, they agreed, it was a flat chicken egg.

As children took turns feeling the leaf shape under the paper, talking about the veins they felt, all agreed that under the paper was a chicken egg.

We began to take turns rubbing a crayon over the paper, with beautiful patterns of veins revealed along with the outer edge of the leaf. One child pointed out that “It looks like a tree!” and we talked together about the central vein and all the other veins moving out from it to other parts of the leaf. We talked about how the veins move nutrition and water to all the parts of the leaf as it grows. We looked at our own veins on our bodies and compared them to the veins on the leaf. This continued until we had a beautiful rubbing of a complete, fully veined hosta leaf.

It was time to remove the paper and reveal the original leaf. We did so, and children were delighted to see what they called “a chicken egg with veins”.

If I’d originally replied to the first child, “No, this is not an egg. It’s a leaf with an oval shape,” I do not doubt that child would have immediately accepted my explanation. But because I neither confirmed nor rejected her statement, our conversation was able to continue with more direct observations and attempts at explanation, bringing in the thoughts of all the children, with each observation considered and valued.

In this case, as in all science with young children, the facts are less important than the process of investigation – direct observation, forming a hypothesis or theory, collaborating with others, evaluation, and thoughtful conclusion built on previous experiences. If we join the children “where they are” in their thinking and development, we can invite them to join us as they develop habits of learning that will last a lifetime.