Category Archives: Project

Play, Projects and Curriculum

At LCP, we believe that children learn best in a playful joyful environment having a wide variety of opportunities for hands on, concrete learning and engagement with materials that are personally meaningful to the children.

We teacher’s experience and knowledge of development guides curriculum, and the curriculum is different from year to year, reflecting the diversity of interests, learning styles, strengths and challenges of the particular children in the group. We seek to prepare a rich and stimulating environment with many possibilities and open-ended materials. We then observe and listen carefully to the children, and make classroom decisions in partnership with the children.

Teachers are also partners in learning with the children, and model the curiosity, research and documentation skills, ability to ask questions, and engagement over time, that are features of deep learning. Diverse experiences, learning styles, and interests are all valued as children and teachers cooperate together to create a “community of learners”.

Documentation of children’s work, of plants or other elements from nature, of classroom collections are at both child and adult level whenever possible. Why do we document? As children and teachers get to know each other, ideas for curriculum unfold and develop. Curriculum includes everything that happens in our program – from finding a cubby for the first time, exploring a new space, getting to know new people, learning a new skill, to investigating a theme or project together. Documentation gives us a way to organize our thinking about what happens, gives us something to show the children to trigger memories and conversation about our time together, and gives us a way to share experiences with parents, who are looking for a “window” into their child’s experience and are often looking for ways to deepen their understanding of learning and teaching in early childhood.

We keep this documentation available over extended periods of time, so that children can share memories of common experiences, deepen their understandings, share perspectives, and re-visit experiences.

There are unlimited paths that can be taken to develop skills. It’s important that we join children “where they are” to establish trust, and to assure that children know they will be listened to and appreciated for their unique qualities and contributions, and so that we can encourage each child as they “learn how to learn”.

Projects can provide a structure through which children can share perspectives on a common theme and learn together. Projects include opportunities to discuss, revisit ideas or common experiences, research an area of interest, develop skills, develop theories or solve an intellectual problem. They can last a day or several months, and may involve the whole class or a small group of children who share a common interest.

Projects typically are begun by teachers based on observations of the children’s interests, and have three parts:
1. First, there is discussion. Children talk about what they already know, what they are interested in, and may identify questions they would like to answer about the topic.
2. The second phase of the project may include activities, opportunities to research the topic, opportunities to talk with “experts” or participate in presentations about the topic.
3. Projects typically end with a culminating event or product that brings closure to the shared experience. This could be a presentation for family, making a book or participating in a performance, or deciding how to share information about the project to another class or to other teachers. Children typically help decide the best way to represent their new knowledge about the topic, and participate in evaluating the experience as well as their participation.

Project questions might include:
What do we know already?
What would we like to find out?
How will we find out?
How will we document or show what we are learning?
How can we share our new knowledge and our work with others?
How did it go? How do we feel about our work?

What projects will develop in our classrooms this year? We are in our first few weeks of school but already have beginnings.

Project Beginnings about our Gardens, Plants, and Seeds
As children investigated our playground gardens his fall, they discovered the wide variety of seeds and are beginning to think more about how plants change and grow. We found seeds together outdoors, planted seeds indoors to watch for changes, look for seeds as we cook with vegetables through our early sprouts curriculum, and recently opened a pumpkin to see and feel what’s inside.

Teachers imagine that this beginning may develop into an on-going investigation of seasonal changes on the playground.

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Volcano Project in the Nuthatch Class
Many children expressed a strong interest in volcanoes in the nuthatch class and teachers followed their lead, offering opportunities for children to draw what they know, research books and photos, and opportunities to create three dimensional volcanoes.

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Ocean Project in the Chickadee Class
After reading a classroom book called An Ocean of Animals children directly asked for more time to talk about “the deep deep ocean”. Teachers asked children to describe more about what they were interested in, and created a board with their questions. Then teachers asked “what would we do?” Children asked to draw, paint, create ocean scenes representing the variety of zones they are interested in, and make a variety of animals out of clay. The documentation of this planning process is posted in the classroom so that children can continue to express their interests as we begin.

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Water Project in the Goldfinch Class
Children asked the question, “Where does water come from?” on a rainy day. This led to beginning discussions of water and rain. After drawing their theories, teachers introduced a book called All the Water in the World.

In another discussion, one child asked about the word absorption and children shared their ideas. Follow up investigations have been on-going in the water table, where a variety of materials have been available to explore absorption. Children also used liquid watercolors on paper towels as an extension of this investigation.

Conversations about water then led some children to questions about sinking and floating, an investigation at the water table currently in process.

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A House Planning and Building Project in the Nuthatch Class

Over the past several weeks we’ve noticed a strong interest from the class to make houses. It began by a group of children drawing houses at the writing table and evolved into children cutting shapes they need to make houses, creating window shutters that flap using tape, and even painting their houses at the easel.

We asked families to please email us pictures of the outsides of their houses- any and as many angles as they wanted to share. When we returned from the December break these photographs were printed for children to use to start drafting their plans of how they would want to build a model of their houses.

We also had conversations about what an architect does, and we read the book Iggy Peck Architect. The class talked about how an architect builds things, but before they start building they need to draw, or draft, a plan. Children began drafting their plans for building their collage houses.

We have been inviting children to work on their drafts at the writing table in small groups. Each child has a piece of easel paper with a photograph of their house glued onto it.  Children are encouraged to notice the shapes and details of their house and use a pencil to draw what they notice. They have the option to use rulers if they want to. Teachers work closely with the children to label the different parts of the house they want to include in their construction. A variety of recycled materials are featured around the classroom to give the children some ideas about what they might need to build their house. Children are welcome to suggest materials not featured as well, and we  do our best to acquire what they need for their big ideas. On each piece of paper teachers are writing a list of materials that the children are hoping to have when they enter the building stage of their projects. We are taking donations of materials that may be used for children’s house ideas. An architect’s draft will be displayed next to a surface with their requested materials so that child can look at their plan while they build. We are also happy to find additional materials for the children if they decide they need to adjust their plan while they’re building.

A few weeks ago children began constructing their model houses, based on the draft they created. This is a project that requires many materials and patience, so one child at a time will be working on the building piece. We are reminding the children that everyone will get their turn to build, and we encourage them to visit other children as they build.

Some Extensions

Children have been practicing making plans with other children in the block area. They use a variety of stories to help them plan what to build, and they also access their block journals to draw up their own plans for their buildings. The class noticed the lined graph paper in the book Iggy Peck Architect and were interested in using it. The writing table now offers graph paper for the children to explore. We introduced blueprint templates. Children worked in teams and independently to create block designs based on the drawn plan. This practice will carry over into the house planning idea we have seen such a strong interest for. Children began making their own blueprints as an extension of what we started. Teachers cut out sponges to match the block shapes that children have been using. At a meeting, children helped to match the sponge shapes to the block shapes by using descriptive words and shape names to identify them. Children then helped choose the colors each shape should be. These shape sponges were then used by children to print their own blueprint designs. Teachers laminated each child’s work and children have used the blocks to build on their own and other classmate’s templates.

While children wait for their turn to construct their houses we are offering other building materials. Lincoln Logs have been featured for a couple weeks now, and groups of up to 5 children are sharing the materials. Really interesting designs are being created!

We will be adding different building items over the next few weeks, as we notice children’s interests. If anyone is interested in seeing some of the books we have used during this project, we will be putting together a book list. The books we’re featuring include ones that inspire the construction of houses and also images and stories of different kinds of homes around the world. We will continue to introduce new, relevant stories as the project continues. Here are some of the stories we have introduced so far: Iggy Peck Architect, Rosie Revere Engineer, Houses and Homes, Home, A House is a House For Me, Jack the Builder

Kayla Barrows and Stacey Festa, Nuthatch Teachers

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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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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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Map Project

This year many of our youngest children have been traveling and there has been lots of conversation about vacations and trips to visit family. We often talk about how children traveled: Was it so far away that you took an airplane? Could you drive? Did you need to sleep away from home? Where did you sleep? Did you go over the ocean or over land? As we talk together, our classroom globe is featured and we help children find where we are now as well as where they traveled, so that we can show how far the trip was on the map. This informal and often spontaneous conversation also leads to questions about the globe itself, and we often talk about the symbols children notice, whether they show land forms, water, continents, animals that live nearby, etc.

Teachers decided to see if a more formal project might develop from this interest. We decided to start by asking families to help by sharing places around the world that are important to each child’s family identities. We posted this information in each location on 2 huge hallway maps – one of the United States and one of the world. And as information came in, we began our project by taking children out into the hallway to find their names and notice all the places associated with their families.

What a powerful beginning this turned out to be! For some children, finding their names and the names of countries important to family members has been the primary focus. For others, the interest has been in the maps themselves: Why is a globe round and this world map flat? Why does the United States look so big on this map and so small on this one? We live in Massachusetts – where is it on this map? Why can’t I find my house on the map? Why are there dots or lines or bumps? Blue is the water – there is land and water. What makes this place an island?

Our next step was to invite children to work together on a map of our classroom. Because so few children are representational in their drawings now, we used shapes as symbols for our table surfaces, hoping that would help children visualize our classroom activity centers and other features. Children looked around the room as we decided the best shape for each area and how to place it. We noticed the shape of our whole room – where the shorter and longer walls are. We found doorways together and noticed that only one wall has windows. When children weren’t sure, we walked over to the room area in question with our map, comparing what we placed with what we saw in our classroom space.

Many children chose to continue this process by making their own maps and with a focus on both family identities and our immediate shared environment (the classroom) we found the maps that children made also held personal meaning. Many maps of children’s houses were made, along with maps of the route children take to school. Details included our neighboring mountain, the Great Blue Hill, and children have added the road that passes Houghton’s Pond, another neighborhood landmark. Other children drew themselves in the car on family errands to the store, or on the way to a favorite gymnastics class. Some drew maps they could use, like a map of the zoo that shows the way to see monkeys, elephants and giraffes.
When families supported this project by allowing children to bring in family photos or artifacts that represent important places and people, our conversations were deeply enriched and children made new connections to each other. Some families have brought in books featuring places important to their cultural identities too, and we hope that this will continue.

Right now children are finding maps around the classroom, asking for details, and finding places relevant to their family experiences and identities. The book “Me On the Map” by Joan Sweeny has stimulated many conversations as children clarify the scales of different kinds of maps, and we’ve found children drawing themselves on classroom maps as well. Books featuring global families or houses often have maps in the back, and now children find them on their own and ask for more details about where the stories or people they’ve read about come from.

And we’ve seen children begin to represent land areas in their art. One child, when she mixed a beautiful shade of brown new to her, decided to surround it with blues so she could make “an island” We find children using lines to connect shapes, and are hearing more and more children label their work as a representation of a “house” or “mountain” as they develop their capacity for symbolic thinking.

We are taking the time to observe and collect information on what’s most important to the children so that we can offer meaningful extensions to this project. We know we want to find ways to think more deeply about land forms. We know we want to extend our classroom mapping experience to other parts of our school environment. As the weather gets warmer, we may be moving outdoors for more experiences relating to our mapping experiences – thinking about the outside of our building and our playground, and thinking more about the landmarks and features of our neighborhood.

And we’ll continue to look for ways to include families in this shared experience. Our annual multicultural family lunch is coming up, and we are hopeful that at least a few of the foods we share will represent some of the rich diversity of family experiences and identities that are present in our community.

 

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