Category Archives: Project

Connections and Curriculum

As we start our school year together in a classroom of very young children that we don’t know well yet, we are looking for interests everyone shares that can give shape to our developing curriculum and can help children make connections across many experiences. We want to encourage children to engage with materials and learn more about how to use classroom tools and media and we hope that children will begin to connect socially at the same time – talking together, helping each other find what’s needed, sharing ideas and experiences, and beginning to notice the things children have in common as well as the differences in approach or experience that we can all learn from and appreciate.

Teachers often think about very open-ended themes or projects to get his process started – looking at the environment, thinking about color, making a mark, telling stories all offer beginnings that can unfold in multiple ways over time.

An example this year has been color as an organizing idea around the classroom. We began by encouraging children to use primary colors at the easel and at collage as we introduced these classroom spaces to the children. When we used glue at collage with a variety of colorful circles, would children notice colors? Sort colors? When children created their first paintings, would they keep primary colors “clean” or would they begin mixing experiments right away? Would line or filling a whole page be the primary interest or would color be an organizer? When we introduced children to classroom puzzles or color cubes what could we observe about the children’s understanding of and thinking about color as they constructed? Our observations inform decisions about experiences to offer next, and help us understand how children are thinking about the experiences we share, even when they might not be ready to tell us much about their ideas yet.

Right from the beginning of our year, we’ve had children very interested in using color as an organizer as they sort, create patterns and construct. We’ve had children interested in naming (labeling) colors And we’ve had many children mixing, experimenting, and investigating the multiple shades that can be created when colors are combined. With these approaches and interests in mind, we could offer a wider variety of classroom experiences that we knew would be engaging and offer rich opportunities for the children to connect.

At the easels, we’ve encouraged children to focus their interest in shades of color by changing the color combinations offered. One week might focus on yellows and blues so that a variety of greens could be easily created. Another week might focus on yellows and reds, or reds and blues. When the primary colors returned, we observed a more purposeful investigation of color mixing, and the conversations about shades of color have engaged more and more children. At our weekly paper day, when children share work with classmates before it travels home, many children describe the ways they thought about color to create as they painted.

We offered a variety of books that feature color, so that conversations could continue in a new way. Books featuring fall leaves, and books like Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh or Mix It Up by Herve Tullet have been read and re-read often. Mouse Paint became so important to the children that we decided to extend its themes into our first fingertip and hand painting experiences and for collaborative retelling and drama experiences.

When we were ready to cook our first recipe using tomatoes, we made sure that we investigated many kinds of tomatoes – with different colors as well as sizes. We used these investigations to introduce documentation to the children, encouraging them to talk about, observe carefully, and then draw the varieties they were interested in.

At the science table, we’ve been mixing colors in muffin tins filled with water. Primary watercolors are in 3 of the tins, and children used a pipette to move colors in and out of the water, so that they can create a variety of shades and colors. Including transparent color viewers, mixing tools, and seasonal vegetables at the table enriches the conversation about shades of color, mixing color, and seasonal changes. A favorite activity is to take a viewer and look at the classroom and classmates through yellow, or blue, or red.

And now that the leaves are changing, we are well prepared to look for color in nature. We’ve offered a bed of leaves for pretend woodland animals to shelter in on one of our side tables, encourage children to look up and out of our classroom window often to notice the changes outdoors, and are beginning to investigate changes outdoors as well.

This is one example of how in a busy classroom informed by child interest one thing leads naturally to another. The same process is unfolding in storytelling, making a mark, looking at the environment, thinking about letters and words, and in many other rich investigations that are on-going every day.

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Flower Garden Drawings

Drawing to Think, to Plan, and to Create

Many children in the chickadee class are in the beginning stages of representational drawing and we teachers are interested in finding ways to encourage their growing confidence in putting their ideas on paper. We decided to offer a project where representational drawings could help us plan.

We know that the chickadees are all anticipating spring, bright colors, outdoor activities, and gardens.

We remembered that they have expressed an interest in a sewing project along with other collaborative projects.

We decided to offer a project by reminding the children of these conversations:
• I remember you are interested in watching plants grow and thinking about gardens
• I remember that you love bright colors and things that are beautiful
• I remember that you want to sew together and make something beautiful for everyone to share

We asked the children, “Could we draw some flowers for a garden and then sew them in beautiful colors”?

Many were interested, and we formed a small group (4 children) to begin. Others came over later. We looked at photos of flowers together, thinking about how they grow, the shapes we could see in the flower heads, parts of plants and flowers, gardens, etc. Then each child drew something important to them.

We’ll continue the process until everyone has had a turn to join if they choose, and then we’ll begin to plan our garden!

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Story Project

Emergent Curriculum and Projects

The teachers at Learning Circle Preschool work very closely together and are all interested in fine-tuning our skills and approaches to enhance the curriculum in each classroom. You may not know that each week we meet as a whole staff for a few hours to share perspectives, bounce ideas off each other, and also to participate in more formal professional development on topics we’ve decided together would be beneficial.

We have been thinking about the challenges of project development for a number of years now and improving our project development from this experience. This year we decided to participate together in an intensive course on emergent curriculum and projects, developed by Katrina and approved by the state so that ceu credit could be awarded. We talked together about some of the varieties of projects, embedding educational values, core standards and skill development in projects, challenges we all face as we try to implement projects, ways to organize projects and deeply engage children over time, sources of ideas for projects, and more. It was both exciting and engaging to come together around these important themes, and our invigorating conversations led to a renewed interest in emergent curriculum, and helped us begin to apply new knowledge in each classroom that we’ll continue to develop over time.

Here are some samples of some of the diverse projects emerging around the school. Some are quite broad – like our on-going projects relating to story and storytelling. Some have a focused question or material under investigation, like the “water in motion” project that emerged from some children’s free exploration of water. In each case, project ideas came from our observations of the children’s investigations and interests. From observations, teachers develop materials, questions to discuss, or experiences to share together that we hope will stimulate a deeper level of engagement among the children. We document as we go along, and bring that documentation back to the children to stimulate more thinking about past experience as a guide to determining the next steps we may take together on the topic. This process continues until we bring the project to some closure through either presentation, discussion, or reflection.

Nuthatch Story Project

Starting from free use of open-ended shapes at the flannel board, teachers listened to the conversations and stories that emerged. They made sure to include a few shapes that implied “home and family” themes and it did not take long for stories to develop among the children about family, neighborhoods, invitations to a friend’s house, playdates, etc. Knowing that children’s thinking often benefits from having materials to physically manipulate, the next step was to offer the children a set of doll house furniture to set up as conversations and stories continued. The teachers then made sure there were blank books available at the writing table, and many children have continued their themes as they create personal books.

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Chickadee Story Project

The current story project in the chickadee class is directly related to bookmaking experiences, puppetry and dramatic readings and retelling of folktales that the children have been engaged with since the fall in many different forms. We have included some formal book extensions like the one illustrated from Jan Brett’s The Mitten, reading together multiple times and giving children props with which to retell the story. With new children entering the class, the children spontaneously revisited a strong interest in their family photo albums, now increasingly interested in looking at and sharing conversations about experiences their classmate’s books. The newest element to our story project has been to introduce acting out short stories that the children create in the style of an approach first written about by Vivian Paley. In this storytelling experience, there are no illustrations. Children tell a teacher their story while the teacher writes their words. Then at a meeting the children choose characters and act out the stories. Through this process, the children develop their sense of story structure (beginnings/middles/ends), develop characters, and make sure there are actions for their characters to take.

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Goldfinch Water in Motion Project

When freely exploring water, teachers noticed that the children showed a lot of interest in how water moved through small tubes. They provided longer tubing, buckets, funnels, pipettes, cups and measuring cups to extend this interest, and then asked the children to solve a specific problem:

Can you find a way to get the water from the water table into the bucket that we put here on the floor?

There were a variety of approaches used to solve this problem, and teachers took photos of the diverse techniques used. Them during a meeting, everyone looked at the photos together and the children were asked to talk about what they had discovered about moving water through tubes, talking about their experiments, what worked and what didn’t work so well.

The children went back to the water after this discussion with new knowledge to try again, and after more investigation, drew their observations about how their experiments worked.

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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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Map of the School Playground

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.