Tag Archives: education

Helping Children Notice and Engage

As we begin our school year together, it’s important to teachers at LCP to encourage habits of observation and engagement in our environment.

Our outdoor time offers important beginnings. What do we see when we look up? What do we see when we look down and under? What are the properties of the natural materials we have available on the playground – sand, water, mud, grass, or stones? Where are the best running spaces? Where can we see and play with our shadows? How does it feel to be under a cherry tree? If we use chalk or other materials to represent our ideas and create, do they change if we add water? Can we find ways to see the wind? How are the leaves that are falling from the trees the same and different? Can we find seeds? What’s growing in our gardens? How can tools like our story boards and magnifiers stimulate deeper investigations?

At the beginning of our school year we are also purposeful in our support of community, connections, and collaboration. Are children investigating together and sharing their discoveries? Can we set up the environment so that children are encouraged to work together to solve problems with materials in the environment? Are there materials or tools available every day that require the participation of more than one child? How can we teachers encourage child to child helping and caring?

Today we are in the middle of our second week of school. There are so many stories and beginning connections already!

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Starting a New School Year

School is an exciting place in the fall for parents, teachers, and children. It can also be a bit frightening for us. It takes time for everyone to adjust to new situations and new people. For some children, coming to school is the first opportunity to develop friendships outside of the immediate family. Children returning to school for a second or third year will be facing new classrooms, new teachers, and new classmates. And they will be approaching the school environment from a changed perspective, since they have grown since the last school year.

We teachers also go through a period of adjustment in the fall, as we get to know the children better, gaining insight into personalities, needs, and learning styles, over time. It takes a while to get to know how we can best encourage individual children to make the emotional connections so important for a successful classroom experience. We teachers will also need time to get to know parents, hoping to find ways to encourage parents to feel comfortable about their child’s program, and comfortable bringing concerns about the program to us.

Parents are going through an adjustment too. You may be wondering how your child will like a new classroom, and whether or not he or she will get along with teachers. You may be concerned about how quickly your child’s teachers will find the unique qualities that make your child such a special individual, or wonder if your child will be able to form friendships quickly. You might be uncertain about how to bring up a suggestion or concern you have, wondering how your child’s teachers will react.

If we as adults experience some anxiety about the beginning of school ourselves, it should come as no surprise that some children may express ambivalent feelings about this new beginning.

If your child is anxious about coming to school, or is experiencing a tearful separation from you on school days, try to remember that the feelings these behaviors may represent are natural, not uncommon, and they will pass as familiarity with the school routine and trust in teachers develop. Learning to acknowledge one’s feelings and express them is, in itself, an important step for your child. He or she will find that teachers (as well as parents) can offer caring and sympathetic assistance, and that other people (children and adults) have felt the same feelings in their lives. Try to remember also that tears at separation do not necessarily represent unhappiness in school, but may be an expression of the temporary difficulty a child experiences at the moment of saying good-by to a parent. In fact, most children are able to begin their day happily within minutes of their parent’s leaving. Sadness passes as enthusiasm for the materials, experiences, and people associated with school take over.

As children and parents together become increasingly comfortable with, and knowledgeable about, the routines and expectations of a day at school, and as children experience the fact that parents do indeed return at pick up time for children, reassurances offered at the beginning of the school day will be able to ease the transition from home to school.

Practical Advice to Parents with Children Experiencing Anxiety at Separation

1. Look for the special ways your child handles the transition time comfortably; take your cues from your child.

2. Support your child – try to be positive. (Children are very sensitive to your ambivalent feelings; these can represent doubt to your child, and add to his or her sense of insecurity.)

3. If you enter the classroom and choose an activity to aid in your child’s transition, choose something that has a definite end (puzzle, book, etc.) Let your child know that upon completion of this activity, you will be leaving. Then stick to it.

4. It is helpful for some children to bring something from home – a favorite toy, book, photo of a family member, note, etc. This connection to home can be very reassuring.

Helpful Phrases When It’s Time to Say Good-by:

“I know it’s hard to say good-by”
“This is a special place, just for children”
“Will you make me (daddy, sister, etc.) a special drawing today?”
“I’ll be back to pick you up at lunch time.”
“Have a fun day.”

It’s great to look for books in the library for book titles that relate to children’s’ feelings of separation, loss, friendship, school routine, and/or developing self-image and independence. These are all important themes at the beginning of a new school year.

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Summer Science and Arts

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to think about summer programs!

We’re beginning the registration process for this year’s Summer Science and Arts Program (June 10 – July 18) at Learning Circle Preschool. The program runs Monday – Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.  with children coming either two days or four, bringing a lunch (peanut and hard nut  free please!) The program is conducted almost completely outdoors, except when it rains.  And the beautiful expansive playground is a cool and breezy place to play even on quite hot days.

The program features an integrated arts curriculum with a focus on the natural sciences, art, music, and creative movement – with lots of time for story-telling, drama and puppetry, too. There are small groups every day, along with time for snack, free play activities, and outdoor play and exploration. The groups are organized with each child’s experience, development, and individual styles and preferences in mind.

What does summer science look like?

There’s a way in which everything young children do is science. Using one’s senses to explore the environment, investigating how things work, expressing curiosity, asking questions, observing, and then integrating all that new information to make more, or new, sense of the world, are all central to how children learn and experience their world. Teachers can follow children’s lead, stimulate new thinking, encourage deeper considerations, offer new information and tools, suggest steps or approaches to try, and join in as children explore together.

Science might look like:

  • Open-ended and child initiated explorations of materials and space in the environment, either individually or in small groups
    • Discussions and investigations of materials, photos, or books brought to a group by teachers or children
    • Use of tools to observe the environment, and then to document those observations to share with others or to compare with other related observations from day to day
  • Questions posed to individual children or a small group with a problem to solve or a topic to consider:– Can we make waves in the water table? What is making those waves bigger?
    – What do you notice happening when we mix these ingredients in the “potion”?
    – Let’s look at how this plant is changing day by day…
    – What living things are we sharing space with when we use our playground? – How can we see the wind?
    – How can we move this ball faster (or more slowly) up or down the ramp system? – What do we know about….
  • Collecting data and noting changes using documentation or charts and graphs over time
  • Making predictions and guesses about what will happen when actions are taken

Teachers find the best topics by setting up a stimulating environment indoors and outdoors, and then engaging with children in that space, watching and listening carefully to collect information on what seem the most meaningful to children. Then we make sure the right tools and opportunities are available for children to pose questions, make predictions, observe, document, reflect, and share.

Science is everywhere!

Here are some photos from last year’s program.

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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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