Tag Archives: science

Ramp Play

Children in every classroom have been deeply engaged in the physical sciences and engineering through use of ramps. We’ve found that large groups of children have designed, solved problems and worked together for extended periods of time every day when ramps are available. For some, ramps are spontaneously designed as part of a block construction or city scene. This exploratory stage is an important one, and gives teachers ideas about the kinds of questions or problems we might pose to children as they play. First by joining play, describing what we see, and posing informal challenges, and then later by proposing specific problems for children to consider, we encourage children to form hypothesis, make predictions, observe, and reflect, and connect experiences to deepen knowledge.

To quote Betty Zan’s Article, Physics in Preschool? (https://www.communityplaythings.com/…/teaching-stem-with-ra…)
“Classroom activities such as these engage children in actively exploring their environments, making sense of them, and using what they learn to design things. Although to a casual observer, these experiences may look like mere child’s play, to a knowledgeable early childhood educator, they are rich learning experiences. Children are learning how to engage in important scientific and engineering practices, such as how to ask questions and pursue the answers, identify and solve an engineering problem, plan and carry out an investigation, make close observations, construct explanations based on evidence, and communicate their conclusions with others. They are also engaging with important science concepts, such as cause and effect (when I make the ramp higher, the marble rolls faster), patterns (when I alternate the direction of the blocks, the base of the ramp is more stable), systems (when I move one segment of the ramp, it affects the entire structure), and energy (the heavier marble will knock down a block at the end of the ramp, but a lighter marble just bounces off). ”

To support this play, we connect ramp play to other materials which with objects are in motion – for example, marble painting, water play, using scarves, small parachutes or streamers in the wind, etc. And we connect our discussions of ramps to some good reasons to use them in design. For example, our school ramp makes it possible for someone in a wheelchair to access our space, and in block play a good ramp system can assure that our dolls that use wheelchairs have access too. And if children are designing a harbor system we have to find a way for boats to move off the trucks or cars that carry them so that they can access the water.

Right now there are extensive investigations of ramp systems and velocity among some of our older students, who spend long periods of time, often in teams of 2, experimenting and discovering. The interest in ramps for these children began when children took materials from a sink and float experiment and began using them in different ways. They used a Styrofoam container and a marble to roll the marble back and forth and were very interested in how the marble moved. They noticed that they could rock the Styrofoam to make the marble move slower or faster. When ramps were introduced, children were encouraged to make predictions and hypothesis about how the marbles would move down the ramps. They have been working on ways to change the angles of the ramps they use in their designs to see what would happen. A next step was to create traps for the marbles to get caught in.

We know that this rich play is only beginning, and will take different forms over the course of our year together. We’ll continue to observe, ask questions, pose challenges for the children, and offer a wide range of materials, including materials with which to create new ramp systems, so that this deep engagement in understanding how things work continues.

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Food Day Festival 2015

We recently celebrated our fourth annual Food Day Festival here at Learning Circle Preschool with a fantastic group of volunteers, engaged children, and visitors from the community.

Children spent the morning on our playground cleaning out garden beds and planting garlic, printing with fruits and vegetables, investigating and documenting observations of a variety of heirloom squash and other plants, snapping beans, exploring rainbow chard, reading books about gardens and harvesting and more. There was tremendous interest among both children and adults in composting. We have our new compost container in position, and we’ve already begun to collect “good garbage” for the compost in every classroom! We hear that families are starting to compost at home too.

In one classroom, children spent some classroom time chopping apples to make applesauce. What a wonderful sensory experience – the smell of that sauce filled our school!

We had two neighborhood walks to Brookwood Farm. On the way, we looked carefully for signs of life near the stone walls we passed, and enjoyed familiar landmarks we pass on our way to the farm. Children noticed how steep and rocky the reservation land across from us is (we are at the foot of Great Blue Hill) and noticed the many vibrant colors of leaves around us. When we arrived at the farm, we saw work in progress as beds were being cleared, and spent time in the sensory garden, observing and experiencing the variety of seeds, smells, textures, and plants of the season.

Sharing a beautiful fall day like this is truly inspiring. It gives renewed energy to the work we do with children through our early sprouts curriculum and with the many aspects of our curriculum that help children connect with their environment and the natural world. Thanks to all of you who shared your time and enthusiasm with us.

We hope you’ll find time to share these photos with your children as you remember the day. And for those who could not attend, please don’t hesitate to ask questions and share your ideas about how these themes will continue through the projects and themes we share with children throughout the school year.

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Learning Circle Preschool and Kindergarten offers visits to prospective parents.

It may seem early, but now is the time to start planning for preschool for enrollment in the 2016-2017 academic year.

The Learning Circle Preschool, a non-profit preschool and kindergarten program at the foot of the Blue Hills on the Milton/Canton border, is offering prospective parents and their children the opportunity to visit its facilities at 3 Blue Hill River Road, Canton, MA. The visits give parents and children a chance to meet with director Katrina Selawsky, to talk about each family’s specific needs and to tour the school.

On Wednesday, Oct. 7th the Open House is scheduled during a typical school day for families interested in seeing classrooms while children are in session.

On Friday, Oct. 23rd the Open House is scheduled concurrently with Learning Circle Preschool’s Annual Food Day Festival. After visiting the classrooms indoors, parents and their children are invited to participate in activities focusing on healthy food choices, where food comes from, investigating the science of familiar vegetables, and planting. These are planned as part of National Food Day. Stories, gardening, arts, and science activities will be included as well as scheduled walks to Brookwood Farm (weather permitting).

On Saturday, November 14th, the Open House is scheduled for families who may prefer visiting on the weekend. On the same day, at 11 a.m., families may attend a community puppet show presented by Sparky Puppets called “Old Favorites” ($8 per ticket). This features re-tellings of three traditional folktales.

Learning Circle Preschool, accredited by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) offers morning programs with two, three, or five-day options, afternoon enrichment programs, and extended day options that run until 4:30 pm. Facilities include three state of the art, open, sunny and spacious classrooms, a welcome room with library and a spacious playground at the foot of the Blue Hills, a short walk from Brookwood Farm.
With a curriculum inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, children enjoy engaging, hands on experiences that build a strong foundation for learning with individual attention and project work in small groups, respectful and nurturing interactions, opportunities to plan, reflect on, and work on projects over time, and an integrated language arts, creative arts and science curriculum.

Parents enjoy on-going communication, detailed documentation of each child’s growth and development shared in a portfolio system, newsletters and other written information about the program distributed regularly, parent meetings and discussion groups on educational and parenting issues, and a welcoming attitude towards parent participation in the program.

Class sizes typically range from 10-14 students, each with two highly qualified and experienced co-teachers. Decisions about placements for the fall of 2016 will begin to be made in December. For more information or an appointment, please call Katrina at 781-828-4800.

Please share this information with any families you think might be interested!

Failure Can Lead to Success

Some of the best learning can happen when things don’t work as expected.

This year when we took out our hand pump to introduce it to the children, teachers couldn’t get the pump to work. We tried priming, read the manual multiple times, but could not see why the pump didn’t work. After all, there aren’t many moving parts to break on a manual pump like this.

When we read some advice about how to take the pump apart to see if anything was blocking the inner works, we decided to include the children in the effort.

When children tried the pump and realized there was a problem, many were eager to help solve the problem. This was especially true when they saw a toolbox nearby. After studying the screws together, the children agreed on which two screws we should try to remove first. They helped choose the bit (“there is an “x” shape on the screw – look for a screwdriver end that will fit in an “x”) and together we removed the screws. Then we tried to move the works, but they were still completely stuck.

What could we do? Teachers got lots of advice from the children:
• You have to push on it harder
• Put something that’s thin in there to push it apart
• Pull the rod part down

After many trials (and after just about giving up) there was a pop and the moving parts released. We moved the works up and down – and the children thought the problem was solved.

The teacher mentioned that sometimes things get stuck in the pump – there are wood chips nearby, sand and stones on the playground. Could something have gotten inside the pump?

Children went to work investigating every part. They found that there was a screen on one side filtering out debris – nothing blocking there. They looked down into the water and saw a muddy ring. Could that be sand? Could it move into the pump and block the water? How could we reach it? The search was on for sticks and toys that might be long enough to reach in. Some fit, many were too wide or too short. Whatever we did, the rings remained. The conclusion reached was that those rings could not cause the problem, because we couldn’t get at them.

One child thought we should turn the pump upside down so we tried that (though it was tricky to handle all that water). Others thought just try the pump again. Still no luck.

By this time, children had been engaged in problem solving for quite a while, and many were ready to give up. Not everyone though! The teacher left the children on their own to help elsewhere on the playground and a few children kept working the pump, trying to prime it, pouring in water in any opening they could find.

And the pump started to work! We never figured out why it was blocked and what made it start working again, but now, about a week later, if the water is slow, we see a group of engaged problem solvers rearranging pieces, pouring water, and getting things moving again – no adults needed.

A hand pump like this offers terrific opportunities to think about water flow, pipe systems, and how to work together to solve a problem. Children generate questions (how can we get the water to go up through here? Why doesn’t the water go all the way through to the last opening?) and offer solutions based on their experience (If the water starts higher then it flows faster all the way through. If you want water to go through the last opening you have to block the openings that come first. When you pump faster more water comes out.). Just trying out an idea requires teamwork since it’s much easier to pump if someone else is there to stabilize the pump and help direct the water.

Many adults think that children this age have short attention spans and are easily discouraged. That’s not the case when there is a strong interest in the materials, activities and resulting problems to solve at hand! When we offer children the kinds of materials that lead to deep investigations, we see persistence and engagement. A simple hand pump like this one – too big to work alone – offers endless opportunities for children to explore their world, think together about how things work and explore the properties of natural materials (like water) in their environment.

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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