Tag Archives: preschool

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Thanksgiving Themes

Holidays and traditions are important parts of our lives, and they give us opportunities to reflect, feel connections to our histories, and share experiences with our families and friends. When we teachers are planning a meaningful Thanksgiving with preschoolers, we use conversations to help them:

1. Express their feelings and ideas about family gatherings
2. Begin to develop an understanding of history and the passage of time
3. Find out specific information about the past and make connections between the past and the present.

A focus on personal feelings, family gathering, sharing, helping, and working together, giving thanks, and making and giving gifts to others is of primary importance for young children.

It’s also true that many preschoolers have a variety of ideas and impressions about the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, and Native Americans. Quite a few of these impressions are inaccurate. The Thanksgiving holiday offers an opportunity to talk about features of past cultures in ways that connect to the children’s’ present lives and interests. It is important that whatever information is shared with children be accurate historically. Young children may be interested in talking about how:

1. People live in all kinds of houses now, and did in the past as well. All people need shelter. (If children are interested, comparisons can be made between the materials traditionally used in the past for housing among both Native Americans and early European settlers, and with modern materials used for housing.)
2. People make and use tools, now and in the past.
3. People cultivate and eat a variety of foods, and prepare them in a variety of ways.
4. People need clothing and wear a variety of clothing styles and materials.
5. People from different cultures have their own ways to celebrate holidays and may celebrate different holidays as well. People enjoy a variety of games, and have a variety of customs, but these customs often serve similar purposes.
6. People help each other when they share ideas and work together.
7. The places people live now did not always look the same way as they do now.
8. There are Native Americans now, as there were in the past; modern life is different for all of us.
9. Relatives of the Pilgrims live now; we live now and have relatives who lived in the past; and modern life is different for all of us.
10. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays we do.

This year we began to stimulate ideas about the past by encouraging children to investigate tools and other objects made from materials found in nature near us. We talked about how these tools were made recently using materials that people who lived in our area long ago might have used too. Children created pretend games with homemade cloth and corn husk dolls that could travel in wood or bark canoes. They tried on necklaces made of dyed corn kernels and thought about how the vibrant colors used might have been found. They pretend cooked using wooden mortar and pestles, and used clam shells for scoops. They incorporated woven mats and baskets into games and pretend. We played instruments made from natural materials. A rich display with diverse materials stimulates many connections to family experiences, and gives us opportunities to offer a sense of history in ways that are personally meaningful to the children.

From that beginning, we offered activities that gave children opportunities to create their own materials. Could we use scraps from our beautiful easel paintings to weave? Could we dye our own fabric with something from nature? Could we learn games that use stones or other natural materials as props or tools? Could we create musical patterns using drums, shakers, or other instruments made from found materials? Could we use sticks to create designs, shapes or letters?

Because the children enjoy books we can sing almost every day, we used a version of Over the River and Through the Woods (poem by Lydia Maria Child and illustrated by Christopher Manson) to strengthen connections between past and present. With each experience, children found more and more details in this book’s rich illustrations of things happening long ago and their own personal experience. Whether it is a trip to visit grandparents, foods at the table, games and outdoor experiences children enjoy in cold weather, or other details, repeated experiences with this songbook led to rich conversations about family experiences, and helped children understand that in the past people had similar feelings and experiences around family.

Cooking and harvest themes are central to family celebrations, and we’ve been sharing recipes as well. The children all spend time investigating squash, tasting many varieties of apples, and watching the changes colder weather brings to our beans and other plants growing outdoors in the gardens.

The whole school will be coming together for our own “feast” before we break for the Thanksgiving holiday, and every class has been busy making foods and gifts for everyone at school. The children are preparing apple sauce, a trail mix, and a vegetable-rich pasta salad to share at the feast. This offers children a way to anticipate together, and get ready for a special celebration. Each class has been preparing gifts for a school wide giveaway as well, This offers an opportunity to think about sharing resources, so that everyone in the school community receives something special from others. And it encourages children to work over time. This year we’ve been busy painting large clam shells, lacing, and preparing homemade bookmarks with beautiful results.

Families have developed a school tradition that we share as well. A parent created a small “tree” in our welcome room where children can talk about what they are thankful for, make a mark or have a grownup write a message about it, and hang it on the tree. The children have enjoyed watching leaves and messages get added, and those that are writing for themselves have spent time creating their own messages for the tree with teachers as well. This has become a lovely tradition that informally gives children lots of time to reflect on what it means to be thankful and on the many people and things we have to be thankful for.

We teachers had an opportunity to see that these experiences have been meaningful recently when we introduced a flannel board poem about giving thanks to our youngest children. In this story poem represented with pieces of felt, a child reflects on all the things to be thankful for – things we can hold, see, or hear. The focus of the poem is on good foods, and connections to the natural world. As each piece of felt was carefully placed on the board, the children were completely engaged and thoughtful. When the poem ended, there was a brief silence, and then children spontaneously began to share things they are thankful for in their own lives – family, activities shared, toys, and good foods.

Enjoy your celebrations!

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Early Sprouts at Learning Circle Preschool

Every year the teachers at Learning Circle Preschool identify areas of the program that we would like to focus on in more depth, improve, or refresh. This year one of those areas was our implementation of the Early Sprouts Curriculum.

As described on the webpage of the Early Sprouts Institute (http://www.earlysprouts.org/curriculum):

Early Sprouts is a research-based nutrition curriculum that encourages preschoolers to eat more vegetables by growing, harvesting, and preparing organically grown foods. It was developed as a collaboration between the Health Science and Early Childhood Education departments of Keene State College, New Hampshire. Over a course of 24 weeks, the curriculum cultivates healthy change by:

•Increasing young children’s preferences for wholesome foods

• Promoting healthy eating at school and home

• Reducing the risks and issues associated with childhood obesity

• Six target vegetables are the focus of the exploration and discovery in each of four components.

1. Organic gardening

2. Sensory exploration

3. Cooking and recipe development

4. Family involvement

A central theme of this curriculum is that we all benefit from repeated exposure to healthy foods. In the curriculum, exposures happen through sensory exploration of the vegetables, cooking the recipe, and packing ingredients to take home.

This year we decided to rush less, make sure as many children as possible have opportunities to engage with the early sprouts curriculum, and try to make it easier for parents to participate as well. We decided to be more intentional in assuring there is time for sensory exploration, separate from cooking.

On a day we aren’t cooking, we have designed small group opportunities for children to investigate the featured vegetable for that week. We may ask children to think about how they can open a pepper and then try. We may ask children to look for seeds as they snap green beans. We may tear chard, compare the colors and textures of chard stalks, and perhaps use crayons to do a rubbing so that we can feel the parts of the leaf as we work. We save the parts of the plants we won’t eat so that we can add it to our playground composter, to help keep our gardens healthy. These small group opportunities include a teacher to model, encourage children to use magnifiers and look for details, and to talk with children about comparative colors, sizes, textures, or smells of the vegetables. Follow up investigation might be included on the classroom science tables, where children freely use magnifiers, and where children are encouraged to draw or paint something about what they discover (document their findings).

On a different day later in the week when we cook, many children are involved in the process of preparing the recipe together, and then tasting the results at snack time. This is a time to share tastes (some will like it and some won’t like it yet), and think about the ingredients that went into the recipe. We’ve found conversations often include other family times children have tasted the featured vegetable, planted it, seen it growing at a local farm, or perhaps seen it at the market. And children often continue to talk about their investigations – finding the seeds, talking about the stems or leafy parts, etc.

Towards the end of the week, children pack a brown bag with as many of the ingredients as we can supply, along with a recipe, so that families have an easy way to try the recipe at home. We’ve found many children enjoy cooking with their families, even if they don’t like the recipe in question yet!

We’re only a few weeks into our school year, and we can already see that giving children more time to engage with the vegetables is making a huge difference. The enthusiasm with which recipes are shared with family members is clear, and many children are excited to bring their graph of family tastes back to school so that we can talk about their experience together. We’ve seen exposures to the foods, with no pressure to eat them, makes a difference. And we are hearing children recognize that their tastes may change over time. For example:

One child, who was in the class last year, when cooking with peppers said to a teacher, “Do you remember last year when I didn’t want to eat any peppers at lunch if they were in my lunch box? I didn’t like peppers yet. But then later I tried them, and I found out that now I really like peppers. My tastes changed – I didn’t like it yet but now I love them!”

Another child was eager to cut into tomatoes when we had child safe knives available to cut into them, look for seeds, and compare varieties. She insisted she would not eat any tomatoes as she did not like them. When a teacher gave her a spoon to scoop through the tomato to find seeds, she could not resist trying the juice, and found she liked it.

Here are some photos of the first few weeks of our early sprouts investigations. We look forward to a year filled with engaging investigations, healthy gardens, and good recipes to share!

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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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“Organic” Math

This year many of our youngest children (primarily 3 year olds) showed strong interests in math, and an opportunity to collaborate on a big mathematical problem came up on our last day of school.

We have been using a rolling calendar all year, marking the number of days we’ve shared at school, and watching the roll of paper get bigger and bigger. Our plan was to unroll the paper on the last day so that we could see how long our school year was. We also planned to cut the paper up afterwards, so that each child could take a part of their school year home.

Rather than lead this process completely, a teacher asked an “I wonder” question once the children marked day number 163 on the calendar:

“I wonder how we could figure out how many days each child can bring home today. We have 163 days and we have 15 children here.”

Many children spontaneously began to share their estimations – (“we’ll each get 2… I think 8…I think 4…. I think more than that…”)

Someone pointed out that we could figure it out if we had something to count. A teacher thought out loud about what we had 163 of in the classroom and remembered that we have many periwinkles, and the children thought we should count out 163 of them. When the teacher pointed out that this would be a very big job, and asked if they really wanted to do all that counting, many children enthusiastically said yes.

At this point, the children needed a bit of guidance, so a teacher suggested that we could count the 163 shells and then make a pile of shells for each child from those 163. Then, if we counted each pile, we’d know how many days could travel home with each child.

Again, teachers asked children to think about how big the job would be. We’d have to find a big enough space for 15 piles, and make sure no one combined piles, or moved them until we had counted out all the shells. About half the group decided they would get the job done.

It took a long time, but we did manage to count out the shells and create 15 piles. And children discovered that some would take home 11 numbers, and some only 10, but that was ok because we only had 163 days.

Before cutting our days, we worked together to unroll the calendar to see how long it was. Too long for the hallway! By this time everyone was working together, since it took all 15 children to hold “our year” in place.

The level of interest and enthusiasm for taking on this counting challenge was quite impressive, as was the children’s capacity to stay on task for the extended time it took for all this counting to happen. Although the children weren’t ready to figure out on their own how to divide 163 into parts, once that suggestion was made, they helped each other stay on track, count accurately, make sure there was a pile for everyone, check their work, and then call on others to help manage the long length of paper representing our year.

Every child was involved in the project – each at his or her own level, each with his or her own approach, some counting by tens, some by ones, listening to and learning from each other. Contrast the learning that comes out of an experience like this to the learning that comes out of drill or worksheets.

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Thinking About Gender with Preschoolers

This year we teachers have been re-visiting our anti-bias curriculum, looking for ways to help challenge the stereotypical thinking we may see developing among the children. This is part of our teacher’s on-going training, and helps us develop strategies that support the school’s mission and philosophy. Most recently our focus has been on gender.

As stated in Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, “While gender anatomy is universal, behaviors and attitudes considered typical and acceptable for each gender vary from culture to culture and over time.” We know from both our observations and conversations with children, that cultural messages about gender roles and limits are already in play by the time children enroll at LCP. We want every child to explore their identities fully, and to feel free to develop their capacities to make full use of our classroom environments regardless of cultural assumptions or expectations.

Our discussion highlighted for all of us how important it is to be mindful of the language we are using as we engage children, and about the biases that may be present in traditional songs, rhymes and stories that are part of so many family and school cultures. Gender distinctions seem to reach into every aspect of our program. Do we really need to use the masculine forms of words, or are there easy ways to make adjustments in the words we use? Are we greeting girls with comments on their clothing or are we acknowledging their actions and feelings? Do we talk with boys about their actions and accomplishments more than we do with girls? Do we assume that it is only boys who will be unable to listen or sit still, or that boys will be less engaged than girls in discussions, books or the visual arts? What about girls who only want to wear comfortable clothes, join running and climbing games, and play roughly? Do we value developing friendships between boys and girls that are based on common interests? Can we feature both girls and boys in traditional rhymes by adding a line or two? Are there ways to talk with the children about whether it feels fair that either girls or boys are sometimes left out? How can we assure that we show every child that we value the unique qualities that make them who they are as individuals, and assure that all children are encouraged to explore the full range of intellectual activity and classroom life?IMG_0029

We also know that as social interests grow among the children, questions come about friendship and about who can be a friend, and this can have implications related to gender. Are friends always alike? Can a boy and a girl be friends? Does a friend always do what I want them to do? Do I always need to sit near a friend or play with a friend to stay a friend? What if someone else suggests that I can’t be someone’s friend? Since questions like these have been on some children’s minds, we teachers thought about how we might incorporate conversations about friendship into conversations about gender.

One beginning was to simply ask our youngest children what a friend is. The answers included:
• A friend is someone who lives in a different house
• A friend is someone just like me with a different name
• Friends don’t have to be the same
• We can play with a friend
• We can share toys with a friend
• Friends always get along
• Friends always want to do the same thing

We’ve engaged these questions by reading many books that offer opportunities to talk about friendship, feelings between friends, and differences in temperament or play choices between friends. Books like I’m Sorry (Sam McBratney and Jennifer Eachus) and Pearl Barley and Charlie Are Friends (by Aaron Blabey) are great conversation starters for even our youngest children, and feature friendships between boys and girls. Fred Roger’s old classic Making Friends uses clear and simple language about friendship and differences between friends in a non- fiction treatment of the issues. Our discussions of these books help clarify the limits to each child’s understanding, and the impact development and life experience has on how children think about friendships. For example, when a group of our youngest girls read about a boy’s club where girls weren’t allowed, they immediately reacted with outrage about the unfairness of exclusion. But those same girls were a little less sure that it would be fair to include boys in a club for girls.P1120351

Recently in each class we introduced the use of Venn diagrams (overlapping circles showing inclusive and exclusive sets) at meeting to ask basic questions and see results: What do girls like? What do boys like? By allowing children to move their ideas around the diagram we hoped conversations would lead us all to the conclusion that children, boys or girls, may like the same things or different things and that all choices are available to everyone.IMG_4259

In each classroom, children did come to the conclusion that the things they listed were liked by children (boys and girls). But the tone of the conversation was quite different between classes. Our youngest were fairly matter of fact and quickly dropped saying boys or girls and talked about children. Children began the conversation using some common stereotypes (“Girls are quiet”; “Boys can be fire fighters”). But both boys and girls were quick to say that they too could do that other thing, or like that other thing as well, and soon everyone acknowledged that there were many things that children (not boys or girls) like to do.

The Nuthatch class children, a bit older, were passionate about issues of fairness and access. Someone brought up that only boys play in blocks. This immediately created a healthy debate as girls in the class who play in blocks said that boys only playing in blocks is not true, fair, or nice. Similarly, it was stated that only girls dance and wear dresses. Again, a great conversation was sparked from many boys saying how they love to dance and how many children in the class go to dance lessons with both boys and girls in the class. The conversation about dresses was a bit more controversial. There were a few boys who said that boys could wear dresses if they wanted to, but many boys felt strongly that they did not want to wear dresses. This created an engaged conversation about the difference between boys being able to wear dresses and boys having to wear dresses. Once some of the boys realized that even if other boys wanted to wear dresses, that would be okay as long as all boys didn’t have to wear them. Dresses then got moved to the both section. It is wonderful to see children think independently, standing up for what they believe is fair by using concrete examples that disprove one or another cultural stereotype. As the children looked at the diagram, they noticed that every idea could be done by both boys and girls. The consensus was that “boys and girls can do whatever they want to”.

The Goldfinch children, our oldest preschoolers, got a bit stuck when someone mentioned that girls can have babies. (This was revisited with the clarification that it’s women, not girls, who have babies.) The boys in the Goldfinch class worked hard to come up with something they could do that girls couldn’t, but were unsuccessful.

Gender issues come up all the time in the classroom, and we believe that children need to feel supported in their efforts to articulate their feelings about acceptance and exclusion, fairness, and cultural stereotypes they hear about, read about or experience. We teachers listen carefully for the meaning behind children’s words, find ways to challenge limited thinking and expand children’s sense of what’s possible. It’s an on-going process that looks different every year.

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