Birds (outside)

When it comes to gaining true understanding about the natural world, text and photos can only take a child so far. We believe that spending time outside and allowing the students to experience nature firsthand takes the learning experience to a whole new level, engaging the students senses in new and exciting ways.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been observing a mother bird and her baby bird in our outdoor area. When the children go outside each day they run towards the bird’s nest, eager to check on the little feathered family. With each visit, the children have been able to make a variety of observations regarding important scientific concepts such as the animal’s life cycle, habitat and other physical and behavioral characteristics.

The children have been observing how the mother bird feeds the baby bird and have been talking about how “the baby bird is growing.” Noting the bird’s feeding habits and growth rate reinforces valuable scientific skills and concepts such as careful observation, measurement, comparison and cause and effect.

The children also got to watch the baby bird try to fly. This was quite exciting for them because they have been observing the baby bird from the moment it hatched from its egg. While the bird was practicing flying he got stuck inside of the fence but he quickly figured out how to get free. The birds have been a popular topic of conversation between the students, increasing communication skills and unity within the class.

By spending time outside with the birds, the children not only expanded their scientific knowledge, but they also formed a special connection with the natural world around them. Getting a daily glimpse of the baby’s transformation allowed for a unique sense of attachment, appreciation and curiosity to grow within the children, increasing their interest in learning and their thrill as they witnessed the bird take its first flight.

Encouraging children to interact and connect with nature in a meaningful way is important because it allows them to better understand their potential impact on the environment, furthering their development into environmentally responsible individuals. 

Plant Progression

We are very excited to share that our plants have all begun to grow! The children are so eager to check on the growth of our plants every day, so we created a system to track the growth. The children enjoy the daily process of caring for the plants and especially love being able to see the tangible results of their hard work in the form of measurable plant growth.

We begin every morning by watering the plants and measuring the growth of each one. As a means of tracking the growth, the children draw a picture every week that represents the changes that they observe in the sprouts. We have these pictures displayed on the wall for the children to look back on, resembling a timeline! After watering the plants and drawing our observations, the students take the plants outside to get some sun.

This ongoing plant care process has been a valuable experience for our students for quite a few reasons. It has given them an opportunity to learn how to initiate and maintain a healthy daily habit. By caring for the plants each day, they have learned how their actions can impact the world around them. The daily care and measurements have allowed them to better grasp the concept of cause and effect. The positive results (plant growth) have reinforced their positive behaviors (diligently caring for the plants).

The recording of plant growth through drawing is important because it gives the children an opportunity to document their observations in a unique way, expressing creativity, exercising the imagination, and carefully thinking through their observations of the plant characteristics. Working with the drawing utensils builds on their fine motor skills. Using art to document information leaves the students with a record of what they learned that is useful for future comparisons and a lot more fun to look at than numbers on a page.

We are going to continue to care for and document the growth of our plants. Feel free to come check out our timeline in the classroom!

Making cupcakes in play dough (Sensory)

Recently, the children in House Room have been spending time “baking” cupcakes in the playdough area. To spur on the children’s interest and support their exploration, we decided to ask them what other materials might be needed to continue making the cupcakes.

The children listed some various items they felt they needed to continue in their baking endeavor. The list included:

  • Baking tins
  • Utensils
  • Spatulas/whisks
  • Mixing bowls
  • Sprinkles
  • Cupcake liners

Later that day we introduced all of the new materials that the children requested, along with some flour to enhance the experience. Immediately, the children got back to work creating their cupcakes. With access to the new tools, many of the children began to create their own versions of cupcake recipes. They also began to help their friends with create their own recipes and obtain ingredients.

Dramatic play experiences like this one are important in childhood social, emotional, cognitive and creative development. The children showcased their imagination by role-playing as bakers. They merged make-believe and reality by using both real kitchen materials and representative materials like playdough as props for their baking. Inventing new “recipes” put their creativity on display, but also showed their understanding of the need for processes in real life.

The creative and imaginative aspects of dramatic play are important because they reveal a child’s understanding of real life activities, ability to make connections between real life and make-believe and challenge the children to be resourceful when filling in the gaps between reality and pretend. The inventive aspect also instills a sense of independence and confidence in one’s ability to put their personal thoughts and ideas on display.

This activity also increased the children’s group work and communication skills and allowed them to foster positive relationships with their peers. They worked as a team to form the list of needed materials, practiced sharing resources and ideas, helped one another complete tasks, showed support by learning about other’s recipes and built upon leadership skills through the teaching their own recipes.

Dramatic play is a valuable aspect of our curriculum because it encourages children to explore a variety of creative ideas, build upon cognitive processes and skills and use knowledge from past experiences to further understanding of real world concepts.

Color mixing with chalk pastels

This week, we have had so much fun exploring a new art material- chalk pastels! In order to challenge the children a little bit, we have been giving them new materials for them to mix colors with. This change of pace keeps them on their toes, excited about learning, and broadens their tool set for artistic expression.

We began the exploration by asking the students a question: “If we mix paint to create new colors, can we mix the pastels to create a new color as well?” House Room students all agreed that the pastel primary colors would change!

We immediately began to mix the colors to create our new ones. After a few moments of good effort, the children realized that the colors were not mixing. One of the other children thought the technique was wrong, so we adjusted the way we were holding our pastels and tried again.

When that did not work, we then asked, “Why do these colors not mix, but paint does?” Here are some of the students’ answers:

·      “We were moving our hands too slow”

·      “Because they are not watery”

·      “They are too hard”

After our discussion we decided that water would be our best bet to make the colors mix! We got a small cup of water and began dipping our pastels in it to test our new theory. To our amazement the colors began to mix. Suddenly, we saw purple, orange and green!

To conclude our project, we had one last discussion on why the water helped mix the colors. This is what we said: 

·      “The water made it mix” 

·      “It made orange because it was so wet” 

·      “It melted the colors together” 

This activity was filled with valuable learning and skill-building opportunities. Using their prior knowledge about paint to draw conclusions about the unfamiliar chalk pastels showed the children’s understanding of comparison and contrast. The children built upon teamwork and problem solving skills by troubleshooting as a group.

By practicing different techniques, the children worked on fine motor skills and learned about the concepts of angles and pressure. Science was brought into this exploration as the students honed the process of hypothesizing, testing and drawing conclusions. Communication was key throughout this entire process, allowing the children to practice communicative skills, build relationships and learn to value the input of others. 

Play-Dough (Food as a Language and Writing)

The children in House Room have picked up a new daily routine of baking cupcakes at the play dough table. Again, this is happening EVERY DAY! They get extremely excited about doing it everyday, and we are following their lead by incorporating provocations in this activity to strengthen math, literacy and other academic lessons.

While making their cupcakes, we have observed the children talking about “the recipe” and “the ingredients” involved. We encouraged the children to write down the ingredients and recipe on a large sheet of paper. This activity encouraged the children to practice letter recognition, enhance their vocabulary and build fine motor skills through writing. It also gave them an opportunity to work together as a group, encouraging social skills like teamwork, group decision-making and interpersonal communication.

The children have also been building upon their mathematical vocabulary and skillsets. They practice measurement when adding specific amounts of ingredients, making comments like “we need a little bit more.” Addition is also involved as the students determine the amount of treats they made, saying things like “I counted eight cupcakes.”

This experience also exposed the children to a variety of baking and kitchen related tools such as muffin tins, cupcake liners, plastic scoops and straws etc. Using these tools builds upon fine motor skills, and learning how to use them on their own instills a sense of independence.

While the children are not actually making “real” cupcakes, this form of symbolic play is meaningful because it familiarizes the students with the baking process. Practicing the science, math and general process related to baking instills a level of comfort and understanding in the students that will be useful in the future when their play cupcakes become real cupcakes.

Nutrition: Baking cupcakes (Food as a Language)

Lately, the children have taken great joy in making their own cupcakes in the play dough area. To further explore this interest, we decided to allow the children to bake real cupcakes for their Food as Language exploration. As a class we discussed all of the ingredients we would need to bake cupcakes. The children’s involvement in baking their play dough cupcakes prepared them for this moment and they knew exactly what was needed!

After gathering all of the necessary ingredients and utensils, we began exciting process of making our treats. Everyone in the classroom had the opportunity to help make our cupcakes. We all worked together to measure the wet and dry ingredients, stir the batter, place the cupcake liners in the pan, grease the pan and filled every liner with batter.

While the process required a great deal of teamwork, the children also learned the importance of taking turns. Each child had their own job to do, whether it was placing liners in the pan or pouring the batter. Having individual responsibilities within the group gave each child a feeling of importance and showed them that each member of a team is valuable.

Cooking is also always a great math lesson. Measuring the right ingredients, counting out the amount of cupcake liners needed and having an idea of how much time the treats take to bake all build upon counting skills and an understanding of measurements and time.

One other interesting concept to point out is the role of dramatic play in this experience. As noted above, the children had been making their own pretend cupcakes prior to making them for their Food as Language. When it came time to bake the real cupcakes, the children were prepared to do so. When they were working with play dough, they still discussed the ingredients that their cupcakes might require. They still practiced working together to create them, and determined who would fulfill what roles.

The children’s time of dramatic play (pretend, make-believe, role play etc.) equipped them with many of the skills necessary to complete the task in real life. This is one reason why dramatic play is extremely valuable and encouraged. Not only is it a momentary expression of creativity and imagination, but it also gives children good practice for real life experiences.

Mix it up coloring mixing project (Science and Literacy)

This week the children in House Room have been continuing their study of color mixing. We have been reading a new book called Mix it up by Herve Tullet. The book explains the process of mixing primary colors to create secondary colors and various shades. 

The fun, interactive reading really sparked the children’s interest, so we decided to create our own version of the book. We began the process by placing all of the primary colors on a classroom table. The children then had the opportunity to test and determine which colors mix to create green, purple and orange. After mixing their colors they labeled each color with the corresponding name.  

After the process we asked the children what they liked most about creating new colors. Here’s what some of them said: 

·       “When I mix two colors together, it feels like I imagine something”

·       “Making new colors is like magic”

·       “Now I can make green and purple” 

·       “I like making new colors"

Participating in this color mixing experience allowed the children to understand cause and effect, reminding them that their actions have the power to create change. The experience provided an explanation of why and how different colors and shades exist. Understanding the color mixing process empowers a child by giving them the ability to create the colors they need to adequately portray their ideas and emotions. A larger variety of color options means a larger set of tools to explore imagination and express creativity.

The class reading served as a sort of “roadmap” for the majority of the experience. The book’s illustrations mirror a real finger-painting process and the text includes action words like “tap”, “smudge” and “shake” to describe the physical actions the children could take when mixing colors. While reading, the children were also encouraged to count and hypothesize end results in various color mixing scenarios. From a literacy standpoint, sounds of letters and words were reinforced.

The actual mixing of colors exercised the children’s minds, along with their hand muscles. Writing the color names with a marker and handling the paintbrush both enhanced fine motor skills. Labeling the colors allowed the children to practice letter and word recognition and further develop writing and spelling skills. The labeling process also provided an opportunity for the children to grasp a solid understanding of word/image correspondence by matching the painted colors with their appropriate color names.

Making something new gives children a sense of accomplishment and ownership. We will continue to make new paint every week, and create as many new colors as we can. 

Planting peppers, peas, and squash (Science)

The children have been very excited to help Mrs. Maryam garden outside any chance they get, so we decided to bring some gardening into the classroom! As a part of this indoor gardening endeavor, we planted squash, peas and sweet red bell pepper.

We started off our gardening process by asking the children “What do these seeds need to grow?” The children responded with water, dirt, sun and air. These responses show that the children are taking their prior knowledge about plants, obtained from working in the outdoor garden, and applying it to their new indoor garden.

After our discussion the children began to talk amongst themselves to figure out how much soil they would need. The children used their problem solving, communication and teamwork skills to cooperate with one another and come up with a solution to their soil question. They agreed that they “needed to fill the hole all the way so the seed doesn’t fall out.”

The children then worked together to fill the holes, and put one seed in every spot. Along with this great display of teamwork, the children built their fine motor skills. Handling and planting the little seeds into the soil served as a workout for their hand muscles, increasing coordination and accuracy.

In creating the garden, the children practiced mathematical skills through tasks like measuring the soil. Also, taking care of the indoor garden will require the children to work together to meet the daily needs of the plants. In doing so, they will establish new habits and learn the importance of building routines. Having an indoor garden will also allow the children to more closely examine the plant growth process, make observations and hypotheses about each plant’s progress and practice other important scientific skills.

Having this kind of fun and interesting encounter with plants furthers the children’s understanding and passion for nature, which will establish a sense of environmental responsibility and appreciation. We will check on the progress of the plants every week, and continue to water them daily.

Science: Checking on the progress of our seeds through magnifying glasses

We are very excited to share that our seeds are beginning to sprout! This week we wanted to check on the progress of our seeds, so we brought out magnifying glasses to take a closer look.   

Each child had the opportunity to closely examine a seed. They were extremely excited to see what has begun to sprout out of our seeds. Here are a few of the children’s thoughts about what they saw during their close up encounter: 

- “The steam is coming out of the seed”

- “Those are roots”

- “The roots are for getting the water”

- “After the roots come, the leaves all come”

After everyone got the chance to see the sprouting of the seeds, we all sat down and discussed what we saw. The children primarily focused on the shape and the texture of what they viewed, revealing an interest and understanding of basic geometric and sensory concepts.

One of the children described their experience with the magnifying glass, saying, “When I bring it really close to my eye I can see the stem, and the leaves inside of the seeds.” This group conversation built upon the children’s interpersonal skills and provided positive reinforcement of personal ideas.

At the end of the discussion the children sat and documented their observations by drawing a picture of what they saw. Putting their observations down on paper allowed the children to work on fine motor skills. It also allowed them to engage in mimicking and modeling, which are both important ways in which children learn about the world around them. Drawing what they saw required a great amount of attention to detail and careful observation, while also allowing each child to express his or her personal perspective of the experience. 

This exploration introduced the children to a new and very cool tool: a magnifying glass. More importantly, it introduced them to a brand new side of the plant that they would not have seen otherwise. The children were able to get up close and personal with an important aspect of the plant growing process, while engaging their sense of sight in an exciting way.

Understanding the science behind plant growth evokes an interest in and appreciation of the natural world, showing children that the environment is an exciting place that should be cared for. By caring for the plants daily, the children have obtained a sense of responsibility. Getting to see the positive results of their actions first hand is very rewarding and comes with a great sense of accomplishment.

Creating structures with blocks (Science, Math, Language and Social Skills)

The block area within our school environment is one of the most popular places of play for the children. They love creating structures using the many materials that the area offers.

One morning, we noticed some of the children gathering together in the block area. A large group of students formed and began working together to create structures. Their materials of choice were large Legos and small wooden blocks. They began creating ships, castles and spaceships. The children working with small wooden blocks explained that they were creating “a wall to block the bad guys.”  

While building their structures together, the children also built upon important cognitive skills as they:

-Counted the amount of blocks they used. (This shows how the children practiced their math skills through counting and sequencing.)

-Came across challenges when their structures collapsed or fell apart. (The children engaged in problem solving and exploring physics.)

Working with blocks instills a more thorough understanding of geometry in regards to shapes and space (two-dimensional and three-dimensional). Blocks also serve as a wonderful tool for creative expression, allowing the children to put their imagination to use in whatever way they desire.

The team element added extra value to this experience because it allowed the children to improve upon their social skills. Working as a large group encourages children to practice communication and foster new relationships. Teamwork, addressing conflict in a respectful, purposeful manner and understanding the value of each individual’s role in a group are all important skills learned as a result of experiences like this one.

The skills and themes introduced within group exploration are very valuable in our philosophy:

“Contrary to some orientations to skilled performance by young children, the Reggio teachers emphasize achievement in personal expression and reflection on one’s own patterns of thinking. Instead of an early push to read, for example, teachers support a competent ability to communicate with others through speech and other means, so that one can make a contribution to the group.” -The Hundred Languages of Children: the Reggio Emilia Approach to early Childhood Education

For an in-depth explanation of the value of block play and how it relates to our philosophy, click here.

Discovering new ways to water our plants

The children have been very eager to water our classroom plants! Every morning we put the plants down on a table, along with various cups, bowls and jars for the students to water with. 

 

When we first began the daily watering routine, the children discussed amongst themselves how much water they felt the plant would need. They said things like: 

·       “Not too much (water) because then the plants can’t breathe”

·       “Too much water will make the seeds move around”

·       “The dirt has to be wet for the seed to get water”

 

They concluded their discussion, agreeing that we only need to moisten the dirt enough for the seed to get the proper amount of water.

 

Group input was also involved in the physical watering of the plants. Using such large cups to try and water the plants seemed to become a challenge for the children. They were constantly spilling the contents of their cup or jar all over the table. After spilling many cups of water, the children began to ask each other what they could do to stop the spilling. 

 

As a result, we decided to introduce different cups with different sized holes at the top, spoons, straws and droppers to the children. We gave them the opportunity to test them all, allowing them to decide which watering tools would best reduce the amount of spilling. So far the children have enjoyed using the droppers the most, and are most excited to not have a single spill since we started with the droppers! 

This experience allowed for a great deal of student initiated exploration and group discussion, which is very important in our philosophy. The discussion that the children conducted allowed them to practice conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. In sharing their opinions, the children gained a sense of self-confidence and learned to value the input of their peers and work as a team.

Having the opportunity to decide on their own which watering tool would be the best gave the children a sense of ownership over the daily task. It also encourages independence and self-expression while meeting each child’s individual needs regarding fine motor skills.

Along with practicing communication skills, the children were also encouraged to put some of their scientific knowledge to use. They used aspects of the scientific method as they made observations and formed hypotheses regarding the plants, and learned about the plant growth process. 

Creating Rainbows out of Fruit

For our food exploration this week, we asked for fruits that contained colors of the rainbow. Then, the children were encouraged to create a rainbow using the foods they had. The children created rainbow masterpieces using blueberries, strawberries and oranges. 

 

Throughout this exploration we observed the children and noticed that they were particularly focused on the amount of fruit that they had in each color. This interest evolved into a wonderful math experience. The children also discussed the unique colors of each fruit and how they planned on arranging their fruit rainbow.

Below is an example of a conversation between two children:

·       “I have six blueberries.” (The children counted each fruit they had and categorized them, showing mathematical understanding.)

·       “We don’t have any green.” (This shows how the child was aware of which colors are in the rainbow, and that they were able to determine which colors they would need to obtain in order to create a full rainbow.)

·       “Yes we do, the leaves from the strawberries are green.” (This is an example of how the children implemented problem-solving and communication skills, along with creative thinking.)

We like to incorporate natural materials that encourage play and exploration into our learning activities. The fruit used in this experience was of different shape and color, grabbing the children’s attention. They learned that with a little bit of creativity, fruit is not only a delicious snack but also a tool to construct and express their interpretation of the world around them. Handling and counting the fruit allowed the children to practice mathematical concepts while making scientific observations regarding the fruit’s color, texture, smell, weight, and more. These are important concepts for honing decision-making and keen observational skills.

The project also encouraged the children to explore ways in which seemingly unrelated items can actually represent or relate to one another. At first glance, pieces of fruit and a rainbow are totally different. However, with some imagination and the ability to pretend, the children were able to create their own unique interpretations of a rainbow. This experience was important because it allowed the children to better understand association between different ideas and explore relationships between perception, representation and reality. Being able to spot connections between different ideas or items is extremely valuable because it encourages children to ask questions and improves their problem-solving skills.