Tag Archives: social studies

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Map Project

This year many of our youngest children have been traveling and there has been lots of conversation about vacations and trips to visit family. We often talk about how children traveled: Was it so far away that you took an airplane? Could you drive? Did you need to sleep away from home? Where did you sleep? Did you go over the ocean or over land? As we talk together, our classroom globe is featured and we help children find where we are now as well as where they traveled, so that we can show how far the trip was on the map. This informal and often spontaneous conversation also leads to questions about the globe itself, and we often talk about the symbols children notice, whether they show land forms, water, continents, animals that live nearby, etc.

Teachers decided to see if a more formal project might develop from this interest. We decided to start by asking families to help by sharing places around the world that are important to each child’s family identities. We posted this information in each location on 2 huge hallway maps – one of the United States and one of the world. And as information came in, we began our project by taking children out into the hallway to find their names and notice all the places associated with their families.

What a powerful beginning this turned out to be! For some children, finding their names and the names of countries important to family members has been the primary focus. For others, the interest has been in the maps themselves: Why is a globe round and this world map flat? Why does the United States look so big on this map and so small on this one? We live in Massachusetts – where is it on this map? Why can’t I find my house on the map? Why are there dots or lines or bumps? Blue is the water – there is land and water. What makes this place an island?

Our next step was to invite children to work together on a map of our classroom. Because so few children are representational in their drawings now, we used shapes as symbols for our table surfaces, hoping that would help children visualize our classroom activity centers and other features. Children looked around the room as we decided the best shape for each area and how to place it. We noticed the shape of our whole room – where the shorter and longer walls are. We found doorways together and noticed that only one wall has windows. When children weren’t sure, we walked over to the room area in question with our map, comparing what we placed with what we saw in our classroom space.

Many children chose to continue this process by making their own maps and with a focus on both family identities and our immediate shared environment (the classroom) we found the maps that children made also held personal meaning. Many maps of children’s houses were made, along with maps of the route children take to school. Details included our neighboring mountain, the Great Blue Hill, and children have added the road that passes Houghton’s Pond, another neighborhood landmark. Other children drew themselves in the car on family errands to the store, or on the way to a favorite gymnastics class. Some drew maps they could use, like a map of the zoo that shows the way to see monkeys, elephants and giraffes.
When families supported this project by allowing children to bring in family photos or artifacts that represent important places and people, our conversations were deeply enriched and children made new connections to each other. Some families have brought in books featuring places important to their cultural identities too, and we hope that this will continue.

Right now children are finding maps around the classroom, asking for details, and finding places relevant to their family experiences and identities. The book “Me On the Map” by Joan Sweeny has stimulated many conversations as children clarify the scales of different kinds of maps, and we’ve found children drawing themselves on classroom maps as well. Books featuring global families or houses often have maps in the back, and now children find them on their own and ask for more details about where the stories or people they’ve read about come from.

And we’ve seen children begin to represent land areas in their art. One child, when she mixed a beautiful shade of brown new to her, decided to surround it with blues so she could make “an island” We find children using lines to connect shapes, and are hearing more and more children label their work as a representation of a “house” or “mountain” as they develop their capacity for symbolic thinking.

We are taking the time to observe and collect information on what’s most important to the children so that we can offer meaningful extensions to this project. We know we want to find ways to think more deeply about land forms. We know we want to extend our classroom mapping experience to other parts of our school environment. As the weather gets warmer, we may be moving outdoors for more experiences relating to our mapping experiences – thinking about the outside of our building and our playground, and thinking more about the landmarks and features of our neighborhood.

And we’ll continue to look for ways to include families in this shared experience. Our annual multicultural family lunch is coming up, and we are hopeful that at least a few of the foods we share will represent some of the rich diversity of family experiences and identities that are present in our community.

 

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feast

Community Building and Celebrations

The holiday season is approaching, and in our classrooms, many activities revolve around family, family gatherings, giving to others and diverse celebrations.

Our meeting discussions, books and activities stimulate many conversations about families. We find that children return to their photo albums to share family experiences together, and we’ve use books about diverse families to motivate children to draw their own families, and to think about the people they love who they consider family. For some in these discussions, family is the people (and pets) that live together, but for many children even the first family discussions include grandparents, cousins and other extended family. At this time of year, when so many children travel or participate in hosting extended family for gatherings, the concept of family extends.

Starting from this family focus, we begin to encourage children to extend their connections from family to a wider community. The school community also has people who care for each other, and offering opportunities to connect as a whole school gives children a concrete way to deepen relationships here. Our seasonal “feast” is one of the first whole school events that children plan, prepare for, and then enjoy together as a caring community. We want to encourage children to give something of themselves (their time, their conversation, their ideas, their food and gifts) as we come together to celebrate.

Our feast is a time for the whole school to gather for a special snack and sharing. We meet in the kindergarten room, share foods prepared with the children, sing songs, and participate in a traditional “give away” (a Native American custom of distributing gifts to the whole community). During the two weeks or so before the feast, children help plan and then cook food, (this year green beans, carrots, trail mix, apple sauce, and more). We make gifts so that each child will both give and receive gifts from other children (this year painted pine cones, necklaces and book marks). And we learn songs and games that we can enjoy together at the feast and throughout our school year together.

At the same time we talk about sharing ourselves with others, we encourage children to stretch their ideas about community even wider. This is a good time of year to begin to talk together about the neighborhoods we live in, and our connections to that wider community. And as we think about what everyone needs to feel safe and happy, we can start to talk about ways we can help our neighbors who might need something we can give.

One concrete way to do this is to ask families to support our giving projects for local food pantries serving the communities in which our children live. We begin at this time of year, but hope to continue right through the school year, with the generous support of our families. Children are encouraged to bring in a donation, and then work together to sort and bag whatever comes in, so that it’s ready to give.

This year’s feast was the culmination of lots of work and caring on the part of the children, full of conversation and good will. We wish all of you a peaceful holiday season!

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Seasonal Celebrations

As we move towards the holiday season, and as our days continue to grow shorter and darker, festivals that feature light are a natural way to begin to talk about diverse celebrations with the children. Whether it’s Diwali, the mid-autumn moon festivals, Halloween with its lit jack-o lanterns, Hanukkah, birthdays, or Christmas, light plays an important part in many family traditions, stories, and celebrations.

This year we began the discussion by making floating lanterns with the children, informed by Diwali celebrations. We found India on the globe, and looked at a variety of tools, fabrics, and artifacts from India. Children discovered that games we know, like chutes and ladders, come from India, and noticed that the wooden printing tools we looked at are very much like the tools we use for up and down printing here at school. We talked together about how family traditions often include family stories and that stories can be read in books, told and simply listened to, painted onto fabric or other media, or even danced.

After children decorated their lanterns and added “pretend light” to represent a candle, we filled our metal tray with water so that we could float our lanterns all together. We used tea lights in each lantern for a beautiful effect!

Children noticed that some of the lanterns floated but others sank (too little water? too heavy?) We added some water, and made some currents with our breath as wind to move as many lanterns as we could down the “river”.

A lovely shared experience!

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Helping hold the bowl

Kindness

“I’ll get the soap for you” says a slightly taller child to a shorter one who couldn’t get the right angle on the soap dispenser.

At this time of year, teachers observe more and more spontaneous acts of kindness occurring in the classrooms. The children have had a few months in which to share experiences, get to know each other, and join community building activities and discussions with teachers. We see genuine caring expressed when a friend misses school, and children wonder together whether or not that friend is sick and if they will be returning soon. There are spontaneous gifts made and delivered to friends, spontaneous taking on of “helping” roles in the classroom, without prompting from teachers. It’s wonderful when we can begin to see our intentional support of the children’s sense of connection and community bearing fruit.

When we think about our classrooms, we teachers ask ourselves  “how can I notice, encourage, and then celebrate the acts of kindness that occur among the children?”

As we strengthen our own relationships with children, we are always aware that our most powerful teaching opportunities come through the model of our own interactions in the classroom. When teachers model kindness, respectful listening, forgiveness, and caring, children join.

We are also intentional about the ways our curriculum approaches can encourage children to appreciate diverse perspectives and learn to work together. This starts with simple activities that require working together or help from a friend.

For example, in a cooking project it helps to have someone hold the bowl for you when you stir. Each small contribution of an ingredient is a necessary addition to a finished product that we can all enjoy together – an everyday example of a whole bigger and better than each of it’s parts.

We make sure that there are many opportunities for children to collaborate on their work. A large box is much easier to paint with more than one child painting, and then it is available to everyone to use together. A long string can be laced from both ends. Floor puzzles may to be complicated for one, and exciting to complete with help. All these experiences support the notion that it is worthwhile to work with other people.

There are many classroom jobs that children can help each other with. Everyone is asked to write their name on a paper, but if a friend is willing to help with some tricky letters, children can learn from each other. We all must figure out how to file our papers or put our wet paintings on the drying rack, but sometimes a person appreciates a little help, and that help often comes from other children.

Once the environment has “set the stage” for children to see themselves as potential helpers, teachers make sure that helping and caring behavior is appreciated and recognized. Whether it’s as formal as a kindness bell system, where someone can ring a bell if they notice an act of kindness, or as spontaneous as a genuine thank you when a child sees a need and takes a kind action, we appreciate these successes and encourage all the children to appreciate them too.

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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.