Exploring Tomatoes

SEASHELL/SEAWEED PRE-K CLASSROOM

In our school and in the Reggio Emilia Philosophy, the natural world around us should be revered, studied, and celebrated. Gabby, our school's Food as a Language Atelierista, works with every classroom, from infants through upper grades. Investigating food allows for many wonderful discoveries and investigations: mathematical shapes and patterns present in foods, color theory, science of plants/foods, literacy, fine motor skills, social collaboration, and more.

The children in the Seashell/Seaweed room have seen tomatoes many times - but this investigation with Gabby allowed them to see a tomato through different eyes. Gabby helped guide the children as they made several discoveries and found various shapes and patterns within the sliced tomato. The children found the location where the seeds are most concentrated and showed this understanding in the drawings. Observational drawings help children to practice several skills: focus, concentration, math, dimensional analysis, analytical skills, fine motor skills, etc. The children are also simultaneously learning about the natural world around them through investigating and analyzing foods!    

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this child-led, play-based project: 

Language/Literacy: During the investigation, the children had to communicate their findings clearly to each other and to their teacher

Mathematics: The children practiced and used mathematical knowledge to make connections and interpretations about the segmented tomato. When creating their drawings, the used directional analysis to create an accurate drawing. They counted seeds, which reinforces one to one correspondence and number sequencing.    

Fine Motor Skills:  In order to create an accurate observational drawing, the children must exercise control and focus over their fine motor skills.  

Cognitive Thinking: The children make connections and discoveries about the segmented tomato and connect this information to previous knowledge to continue to build their understanding of the world around them.

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other make observations, engaging in discussion with peers and their teacher supports a strong sense of self.

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by discussing these terms at home! Let your child help slice various fruits/veggies. Explore the similarities or differences. Even a few minutes will greatly aid in your child reinforcing important concepts all on their own. Have them explain to you what they notice and off them materials to demonstrate their knowledge – this could be markers and paper, play dough, finger painting or maybe they can guide you as you draw it! Feel free to take pictures of this process and to bring from home so they can share it with their class!

Provocations

Provocations in Seashell/Seaweed and Sand Classrooms

 What is a provocation?

The word provocation is one that you will hear often throughout our school. It is central to the child-led learning that happens every day. Provocations are set up by the teachers in an effort to introduce, reinforce, or further any topic of interest or an academic skill. Provocations are designed to “provoke” thinking and creativity

A provocation can be as simple as presenting natural materials like rocks, sticks, and leaves arranged in an inviting way on a table paired with paints and paper. The child is free to interpret the materials in any way they want. One child might arrange the materials to create an art piece. Another might start counting the items present or see how high they can stack the rocks and sticks. While another might use the sticks to paint the rocks while narrating a story. The goal is for the child to feel free and relaxed to think and create.  Provocations are especially wonderful because they allow each child to work within their comfort level and it exposes children to the unique ideas of their peers. This naturally lends children to learn from each other in a way that is authentic and true to who children are. 

Due to the vast nature of provocations, we will focus on 2 provocations created by the teachers for the Sand and Seaweed/Seashell Classrooms.   

Sand Classroom

Scribbles are taken seriously in our school. There has been a lot of research done about the early marks of human beings. In one long term research by Rhoda Kellogg, she determined that scribbles were not accidental markings but rather deliberate marks. She identified 20 basic scribbles. 

The children in the Sand Class are especially interested in circles! The teachers repeatedly see the children try to draw this shape and point out various things in their environment that are circular. The teachers created simple a provocation to extend their interest in circles. The teachers covered a large table with paper and paired this with circular lids and markers. 

  • The large working area is necessary for young children to have enough room to work - young children draw big and they need enough space to feel free to explore
  • The circular lids provide the inspiration for the desired shape in an object that can be easily manipulated by the children
  • The markers are an important component because markers allows for a richer color mark to be created because young children do not have the manual dexterity yet to apply varied amount of pressure to a writing instrument to achieve a dark enough mark

Providing the appropriate materials allows for the children to work longer and more thoughtfully. In this provocation, the markers are key to allow the child to see a vivid mark with every stroke! This simple detail encourages them to continue to make marks. Working with markers also has the built in fine motor skill of not only using the writing utensil but placing the lid back on the marker! As the children drew circles they engaged in conversations and chose different colors to continue their marks. 

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this project:

Literacy: Creating marks that represents another idea or item is the beginning of literacy 

Mathematics/Fine Motor Skills: The children analyzed their marks to see if they were circular, reinforcement of shapes, creating shapes, using the markers to create a specific shape

Collaboration/Language: The children had to find ways to communicate with each other when they wanted certain colors of markers, they had to respect each others working area, they communicated their creations with each other and their teachers

Cognitive Thinking: The children used a tangible object to observe and then create the shape on the paper, the children are understanding the relationship between marks and symbols 

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, working on a collaborative project with their peers

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by placing 3 varied shaped items on the table and asking your child to give you the one shaped like a circle. You can also go on a shape hunt around the house or have your child bring you things that are a circle. Point out circular items in the books you read together. Give your child pipe cleaners and make circles with them! This can be applied to any shape (or letter, number as your child gets older). Feel free to bring in their work from home so they can share it with their class!


Seaweed/Seashell Classroom

Math is all around us! In our school the children count constantly - we count steps, numbers of legs on animals, our friends in class, plates at lunch, beats of the drum, number of seeds, ladybugs we catch, and on... and on. The act of counting is adding. We highly recommend parents to read the book Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic by Constance Kamii to gain a deeper understanding of how children construct mathematical concepts and why our current educational math model is failing our children. Click HERE to buy the book on amazon. The books offers easy and fun games to play with your child that will greatly aid their development of number sense and give them a very strong mathematical foundation. 

The teachers in the Seaweed/Seashell Classroom know how important math is and created this provocation to allow the children to play with mathematical concepts like one to one correspondence, adding, and number sense. This provocation allowed each child to engage in this activity at a level that they are comfortable with. Children naturally learn from one another and they provided instant feedback to each other while they played.

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this project:

Mathematics: One to one correspondence, adding, number sense, compare and contrast amount

Fine Motor Skills: Pairing this activity with child tweezers added the benefit of strengthening the small muscle groups in their hands needed for writing and challanged them to be patient while they mastered picking up each pom pom

Collaboration/Language: The children instantly started to discuss, debate, and collaborate with each other. Children had to find ways to articulate their ideas

Cognitive Thinking: Each child approached this activity at their comfort level - some began to discuss adding and some focused more on the written numbers

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, teaching and learning concepts from peers

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by placing small objects in a bowl with several cups that have large numbers. Ask your child to fill each cup with the amount designated on the cup. You can discuss which cups seem more full and ask why? If you feel your child is up to the challenge, use a cup with a number less than 5 and you place a few items the cup (but less than the number on the cup indicates) and ask your child how many more is needed to reach the desired amount written on the cup. Scramble the cups and ask your child to put them in order. Please bring in photos or anything else so your child can share it with the class!

Exploring different textures

Texture plays a large role in how we interact with and view the world on a daily basis. It can be observed through our senses of touch, sight and even sound. We recently spent time engaging our senses, and our inner artists, by exploring a variety of different textures using trace paper, glue, watercolors and flower petals.

The children dipped the trace paper and petals into a mixture of glue and watercolors and placed the materials on a larger sheet of paper to dry. Both the creation process and the final results abounded in discoveries about texture.

During the creation process, the children could note the thin, smooth textures of the trace paper and flower petals. As they dipped the materials into the mixture, they were greeted by new sticky and watery textures. They could also note the difference between the feelings of the trace paper before and after it was submerged in liquid as it transformed from a smooth, solid sheet into a mushy bunch.

Once the papers and petals were placed and dried, the final product looked very interesting. It had a three-dimensional aspect, with some areas appearing crinkled or rigid and others looking flat or round. This encouraged the children to make connections between visual and physical textures, noting that the areas that looked crinkled also felt rougher to the touch.

This tactile experience also allowed the children to practice their fine motor skills as they dipped, pushed and squished the different materials into the watercolor/glue mixture and onto the paper. Through this exploration the children were able to learn the important role that texture plays in art, both physically and visually, and how to create and change textures of different materials. 

Primary Paint Exploration

Learning about color is a key part of childhood development. Being able to recognize colors, match them with their proper names, and understand how and why they exist are all extremely important skills for children to obtain. Because color plays such a large role in the world around us, and in art in particular, we believe it is important for children to fully understand where colors originate from and how to create them.

We recently focused on introducing primary colors to the children. They used cotton swabs to mix red, yellow and blue to create other colors like purple, orange and green. They were encouraged to explore how all of the colors worked together and separately. This gave the children a chance to practice color/word association.

By learning to create colors on their own, the children gained a sense of independence. Having the ability to expand their color set is important in matching the pace at which their imaginations and desires for creative expression are growing. 

This experience also allowed the children to explore the many different shapes that the cotton swab created. There are a lot of circles and lines in their work. Creating these types of shapes are fundamental for their motor skill development and understanding of geometry.

Artistic expression is one of many languages that we value within our curriculum. As a child’s understanding of color expands, their means of self-expression and resources for documenting the world from their perspective also expands.

Sugar Beet Popscicles

As a continuance of our classroom exploration of beets, the students recently engaged in a time of sensory play involving sugar beet juice popsicles. Sensory play is comprised of any activity that excites a child’s senses, encouraging them to engage in developmental processes as they play, satisfy their curiosities and express their imaginations.

In a PBS article, Danielle Steinberg explains the value of sensory play in childhood learning:  “Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses… By giving children the opportunity to investigate materials with no preconceived knowledge, you’re helping them develop and refine their cognitive, social and emotional, physical, creative and linguistic skillsets.”

Freezing the sugar beet juice into popsicles using ice cube trays allowed the children to gain a new perspective of the veggie while building upon many of the skillsets mentioned above. As the students interacted with their frozen treat, we posed several questions regarding its physical characteristics:

  • How does it feel (hot or cold)?
  • What color is it? 
  • Is it hard or soft?
  • What is happening to the popsicle when you play with it? Why is it changing shape?

Asking questions challenges children to solidify their thoughts and ideas. Discussing topics and hearing other’s explanations expands existing knowledge and ideas. These conversations are also important because they increase children’s communicative skills, as they practice adequately articulating their personal thoughts.

As the children used their senses to make observations, they were able to build upon their understanding of cause and effect, temperature and texture. The dark, rich coloring of the juice kept the children’s visual senses engaged, encouraging them to study it further. Using their sense of touch they noted the stark difference between the hard, cold popsicle and the warmer, squishier beet the children had previously encountered.

Another primary lesson the children took away from this exploration was the process of physical state change. Using their senses of sight and touch to observe the frozen cube melting into a warm, sticky juice allowed the students to better grasp this considerably challenging scientific concept.

We will continue to study the beets via different methods and in different environments. The more we explore and observe the food, the deeper an understanding we have about its characteristics.

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. 

Scribble Time

In class, we regularly take time to draw with our markers or paint with a brush. These activities help develop fine motor skills and serve as a great way for us to track the progress of each child’s skill level, writing, and understanding of the concepts we are learning in class.

We highly prioritize tracking the children’s progress to ensure that their developmental needs are being met in a way that is interesting to them. We have noticed that each child has taken up their own methods and styles of drawing and painting in class.

One child has begun drawing loops and circles and has started to use a more comfortable, ergonomic hand position for drawing. Sometimes she will hold the pen with the teachers and write notes along side them. 

Another child translates his interest in percussion into his drawing. He often uses his marker as a drumstick, drawing dots while also making music at the table.  

Another child has mastered the back and forth motion of scribbling and is also very interested in the mechanism of putting the pen in the cap.

While free drawing and scribbling may not seem to have any special purpose, it actually serves as a wonderful creative and emotional outlet for young children. Providing children with a variety of mediums and colors allows them to freely express their thoughts and ideas, establishing a sense of ownership and independence.

Allowing a child to draw or paint in his or her own manner is not only beneficial to them, but also to their peers. In these types of free exploration, the children are able to learn from one another. They get to observe and compare different techniques and approaches that they might not think of otherwise, learning to respect and value the work of others. This instills a sense of camaraderie while affirming self worth. 

 

Tracks with Markers

In accordance with our curriculum, we like to base explorations upon our students’ interests. Doing so allows students to take ownership of their learning experience and motivates them to dive deeper into, and better grasp, concepts.

In our classroom, it is very common for the students to circle tables or shelves with Legos and blocks, pretending that the materials are vehicles. The type of vehicle changes with every loop and turn. To further this interest, we placed a large sheet of paper on the table and attached skinny Crayola markers to edges of the large blocks.

Rather than circling the table with the blocks, the children chose to sit down and watch carefully as their movements made “tracks.” While making their tracks, the students used very large motions on the paper. Some even stretched themselves to the other side of the table.

Later that afternoon, we provided the students with small individual sheets of paper and attached the skinny makers to smaller, narrower blocks. Using smaller materials on smaller paper forced the children to use smaller movements and gestures to make their tracks.

This entire experience incorporated two primary aspects of learning and development- dramatic play and fine motor skill development.

Blocks are an open-ended material, or a “blank canvas” of a play material, coming to life as children apply their imagination and creativity. In pretending that the blocks are vehicles, and that the marks left behind are tracks, the children show an understanding of mental representation and symbolism. Not only is this a fun form of self-expression, but it also encourages creativity and serves as a milestone in cognitive development.

Fine motor skills deal with the level of strength and control a child has regarding their finger, hand and arm movements. By grasping, reaching and operating different tools, children build the muscles in their hands and arms and enhance their fine motor skills.

In this exploration, the incorporation of different block sizes provided an assortment of fine motor challenges for the students. With the larger blocks, the children practiced using their reach and stretch to make tracks. When using the smaller blocks, the children’s strokes were slower and more controlled. Each required a different set of muscles and a different level of focus and attention to detail.

Dropper painting

Lately, we have been using droppers and paintbrushes to paint. Learning to use these tools has been a good challenge for the children. While the brushes and droppers both require fine motor skills, the droppers are especially difficult to master because the children have to carefully suck up and release the colored water and paint.

Activities that incorporate fine motor skills are important because they increase the strength and control of small hand muscles. Coordination and precision in these little muscles are required for children to accomplish daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt or eating dinner with utensils. Fine motor skill development is also important for children to accomplish more complicated tasks in the future such as writing.

Take a look at this link to learn more about the stages and value of fine motor skill development.

We constantly engage in conversation with the children as they participate in activities in order to promote communication and vocabulary. A couple of questions that we contemplated regarding our painting exploration included: 

  • What happens when we drop only a few versus many drops?
  • How much force is needed to suck up and release droplets?

This exploration incorporated some important mathematical and scientific learning aspects. By using the droppers the children learned about absorption and displacement of liquid. They discovered cause and effect as they squeezed and released the droppers. We also counted the drops as they cascaded onto the paper.  

Aside from serving as a wonderful learning opportunity, painting is also a fun way for children to freely express their creativity and transfer their ideas and imaginative concepts into something tangible that they can share with others.