Tag Archives: education

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Night Forest Project

A good classroom project has a beginning, middle, and end, and as we finish the ninth week of our woodland and night forest project we are beginning to look for a way to share our work and find closure.

Back in October, we saw a strong interest in forest animals and the changing season. We stimulated the children’s thinking with a side table featuring seasonal leaves, pine cones, bark and twigs, and forest animals that children used to create pretend games. It seemed that even with many other activities and classroom investigations present, strong interest in this side table continued to grow.

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As we listened in on the pretend themes in the forest, we heard a variety of stories about animal families, animals looking for food, and animals looking for warm spaces. It became clear that we could connect the children’s interest in forest animals with storytelling experiences, and with our own relationship to the changing season, with its shorter days and cooler temperatures.

There were many informal opportunities to make connections, and we were conscious to use many. When children brought in a warm coat to play outside, we thought together about how animals might stay warm. We watched leaves change color and then fall from our playground trees. When we raked leaves outdoors, we thought about who might live under a pile of leaves and what that might feel like. We watched Canada geese flying overhead when we were on the playground, and thought together about where they might go. And we encouraged children to think about whether it was starting to be darker when they woke up in the morning or when they went to bed as we head towards the shortest days.

As children thought more about Halloween, walks in the dark, and worries in the night, conversations shifted a bit towards night time animals. What happens outside when we go to sleep? Which animals come out and which ones sleep when we do? Where do they sleep?

Flannel board and felt stories offer children a wonderful, and physical, way to focus their stories, so we used felt day and night time forest scenes at science to encourage storytelling. It became clear that the interest in night was strong. One child, who is a wonderful storyteller, created story after story about animals outside in a night time forest, and we began to see owls featured in many of the children’s stories.

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A visit from a local naturalist, who brought a great horned owl in for us to observe closely, stimulated an even stronger interest in owls and other nocturnal animals. We decided it was time to offer children an opportunity to create their own representation of a forest.

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We brought in a large box (thanks to the parent who donated it!) and asked the children what we might do with it. Children were fairly quick to agree they wanted to make a forest. Our storyteller stated that it should be a night time forest and our collaborative plan began.

Our first step was to ask children what they would need to do to change a box into a forest at night. We collected ideas over a few days:

  • We could paint the box black
  • We could use cardboard and sticks to make trees
  • We need leaves, feathers, grass and ground
  • We need stars and the moon – very bright white stars
  • We’ll add animals to the forest. Some will be in their homes. Some will be out in the forest. Some will be sleeping. Some will be out at night.
  • When the animals go home some will be in the ground, some in the trees, some in bunny holes, and some in a cave
  • Birds, squirrels, bumble bees, ladybugs, spiders and other insects will be sleeping
  • Owls, fox, skunks, raccoons, snails, and opossums will be out in the night
  • The animals should be with their families

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We’ve been working on our box – painting the inside and outside, adding stars and the moon, deciding how to build trees, over many days. Lately we’ve used the box with the same forest animals we used in October, and will be making some of our own animals soon. We may not realize all the ideas shared through our planning process, but when we all feel finished, we’ll invite our friends and family to celebrate our forest and our growing collaborative skills!

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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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Beginning a New School Year

Fall, 2016

It’s common for children to experience some anxiety at the beginning of a new school year, even if they are returning to a school and to people that they know well. There are so many adjustments to make – summer activities are ending, daily routines may change, there may be new teachers and children to get to know. And the children themselves have grown and may be thinking about their upcoming school experiences in new ways.

Some children adjust to change very quickly and others will need more time. Many experts suggest that it’s not uncommon for children to experience typical separation anxiety for up to ten days before routines settle in.  Your consistent positive support can make a big difference as children form deeper relationships with their teachers, who will be their primary supports while they are here at school. Remember that it’s ok for children to take the time they need, and that each child’s feelings need acknowledgement and understanding. And while acknowledging feelings, family members can set up consistent routines, kindly but firmly remind children when you’ll be together again, and develop strategies together that help ease the transition period.

Here are some practical tips to think about:

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 stuffed toy, book, photo of a family member, note, etc. This connection to home can be very reassuring.

Here are some helpful phrases you might use when it’s time to say good-by:

“I know it’s hard to say good-by.” “Mom and dad will always come back.”

“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.”

I’ve included some links below to articles on NAEYC’s “For Families” website with more tips on handling transitions into school:

A Few Thoughts on Separation Anxiety

Tips for Easing School-Time Anxiety from a Mom Who’s Been There

13 Tips for Starting Preschool

Have a Concern about School? Tips for Talking to the Teacher

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Storytelling, updated

It’s spring again, and this year’s chickadees (our youngest class) are immersing themselves in stories, storytelling, and beginning writing. As I began to think about sharing some of the current stories they have created to act out together, I discovered the following post from last spring that describes their processes well. Here are a few samples of first stories:

Once upon a time there was a dragon. It was a dinosaur too. Two more T-rexes! And 2 more dragons. The dragons had fire. There was a volcano. The volcano didn’t have fire. The T-Rex said “Stomp!” He stomped his foot. There was a truck. He threw the truck. He was building a tower. He finished the tower. The End.

Once upon a time, I was a blue princess wearing a pink dress. Rapunzel came. And a dragon came. And he blow fire. “Hi, friendly dragon!” And rain came down. And we had tea. The children had snacks. The End

Once upon a time, there was a princess, a queen, and a prince and a king. And a dragon came. And Andrasandra came too, to watch. The king and the queen were scared. Everybody was scared. They ran away, The dragon said, “I’m a friendly dragon!” They said, “Hi, hi new friend!” The End

Once upon a time there was a princess. One was a knight. There was a dragon. It was a mean one. That one was supposed to be nice but it wasn’t. He blows fire. The princess, the knight and everyone else runs away. The dragon leaves adn he runs away. The princess the knight and the people come back to the castle. They drive to Boston in their car. The End.

Once upon a time there was a big dragon. A baby dragon. And there was a big dragon that blow fire at his dog’s house. It caused fire! And the fireman came in and sprayed water. And then they build a new dog house for them. The dog said, “Hey, that’s a good house!” The End

Once upon a time a princess came. A dragon came. There was a wizard. The wizard was a baby dragon. The a birdie came up. Then a spider was on the wizard’s shoulder. Then a bird went into the tree. Then a pizza box went into the trash. The End

Once upon a time, I was with my dad. And my mom. And my brother. I was bringing my brother in school in the bus. Grandma and Grandpa came. The End

It’s clear from this sample that many children collect ideas and themes from other children and develop them to make them their own.

The original post with more detail about how story acting supports storytelling  among 3 year children at Learning Circle follows:

Throughout our school year, we have been finding a variety of ways to encourage the children to think about story forms and storytelling. We’ve told “dream stories” at meeting, retold favorite folktales with flannel pieces, and enjoyed books together. We’ve sung stories and songs, and used books or song cards to help choose songs and remember them. We’ve used favorite books and stories to create our own props for plays and acted out stories. We’ve encouraged children to “tell about” their work, whether it was at the easel, in journals, or in block or dramatic play. We’ve asked children to talk with parents about favorite stories, and found out that parents often share their favorites from childhood with their children.

Following the model offered by Vivian Paley (loosely) we have also encouraged children to write stories that we can act out as a class. To write such a story, children sit in the “writing chair” to dictate their ideas. Stories must fit on one half page of paper (that way we have had more time to give everyone a turn) and include no illustrations. Children simply tell a teacher the words to write down, and then the teacher reads the story back to its author.

Later in the day, roles are assigned at a story telling meeting. The author chooses a role to act out, and we go around the circle asking for other volunteers. We’ve found that because we offer the next role to the next child (regardless of gender, etc) children have gained an understanding of pretend and acting (Girls can be princes and boys princesses; we can be animals even if we are people, because we are pretending and we need to help tell the story). The actors stand up to act out the story, narrated by a teacher, while other children become the audience.

We have two short videos of this storytelling process in the two day class, and have some sample stories written down. Every child participated in the story acting experience. Some have preferred to act out stories told by friends, and some prefer the audience role right now. Every part in the storytelling process is an important one.

We’ve noticed that children have clear themes that recur in their stories. Some of these themes are related to ideas from friends, so look for similarities between stories written on or near the same date.

Look for the writing patterns in the stories as well. A basic story follows along like a list (And he did it, And she did it, etc.) We often ask children “And then what happened?” to move a story forward.

Those children who have included many characters figured out early in the process that if we have more characters, more children are actually in the story when it is told. It has not been uncommon for teachers to be the only audience.

We hope you enjoy this sampling of our beginning stories.

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For families with children currently at the school, you may log in at this link to see some short videos of children acting out their stories.

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Blocks and Construction Play

Whenever family members ask about good toys for children, one of the first that comes to mind is blocks.

Unit blocks – blocks that come in several sizes and shapes that are proportional – offer tremendous learning opportunities. As they play, children solve problems and develop motor skills. They measure, sort, compare, think about shapes, and develop spatial skills. In order to successfully realize their ideas, children develop the capacity to plan and to use their past experiences to inform their building designs. Children learn to practice and persist as they cope with design challenges. They explore scientific principles and physics as they experience the challenges building their structures pose, whether it’s making a long bridge, creating a window opening, or building higher.

Even taking blocks off the shelf and cleaning up offers opportunities for learning. When children match a picture of a block to the block itself at cleanup, they are “reading the blocks” – using an abstract representation of the block to know where to put it. This is an important prerequisite to reading words.

Many children are also developing stories and pretend skills as they build. The buildings may be part of a city, or may represent a neighborhood where children live. There may be people who live and work in the buildings that are constructed. Children may explore jobs people do, road or pipe works, and relate their block play to their life experiences.

There are many opportunities to develop social skills as children build as well. A bigger structure or thematic plan is possible when children work together, but to do so requires talking together, planning, sharing ideas, negotiating, taking turns, and generally learning to take the perspective of others.

Many different kinds of construction toys, including unit blocks, encourage children to create and solve problems. Because open-ended materials like blocks can be used and combined in so many ways, children are invited to expand their capacity for divergent thinking.

Free exploratory play with blocks and construction toys is important, but is not the only way that these materials can be used. More experienced children may benefit from following a plan to build, or by solving a problem with blocks posed by a teacher.

Constructing with blocks gives children opportunities to learn as young children learn best – through physical activity with concrete materials in their environment, on themes that are personally meaningful, and in an integrated way.

Enjoy the collection of constructions shown by these photos!

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