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!

Bug categorizing

Lately, we have noticed that some of the children have started confusing the names of certain bugs and insects that they have come across in our classroom. To resolve this confusion and further our understanding of insect names, we set up an exploration.

Using magnifying cubes to help us get a closer look at the bugs, we placed four ladybugs, four doodle bugs, four snails and two caterpillars out on a large sheet of white paper. The paper was divided into four sections labeled “Snails,” “Caterpillars,” “Ladybugs” and “Doodle Bugs.”

The children were excited to see our critters out of their natural habitats. They immediately started grabbing the cubes and excitedly shouting out which ones they had in their possession. We asked the students if they knew what words were on the paper and they all responded by saying “I don’t know.” We took this opportunity to explain to the children the different word in each square.

Some of the children started to place the critters that they had in their hand into separate sections. They repeatedly asked us which section was what. We talked about the first letter of each section to help them connect it to the name of the critter and some of the children helped their classmates find their correct section.

While they were relocating the bugs, some of the children wanted to bring chalk and oil pastels to draw their bugs on the paper. The children drew bodies, legs and antennas in each of the sections. They enjoyed rubbing their hand and arms on the areas that chalk was used. The bright colors rubbed off on their skin and some of them even started to draw on their arms.

By categorizing the bugs into their correct sections, the children practiced word association. Learning to properly label and name items is an important aspect of communication skill development. Writing the bug names on the table and using the first letters of the names to give the children “hints” also increased the children’s general letter and word recognition skills.

In helping one another find the appropriate category for the bugs, the children practiced teamwork, encouraged positive relationships and enhanced their interpersonal communication skills. Drawing the bugs in their correct sections also allowed the children to further instill their mental connection between each bug name and that bug’s unique characteristics, as a means of remembering the appropriate name.

While this began as a communications based exploration, it also built upon other cognitive skills like counting and categorizing.

Legos, Legos, LEGOS

This week, the children have been working with Legos. Legos are considered an open-ended material, meaning their transformational possibilities are nearly endless when a child’s creativity and imagination are applied. Because they have no pre-determined purpose or shape with a specific resemblance, they do not place parameters or limitations on what the child can create with them. Therefore, they make a perfect addition to a play-based and child-led environment.

We took the Legos to the light table, giving the children a different perspective of the blocks and allowing them to see how the presence of light impacts and intensifies color. Among the comments the students made, we heard them say that they were building “a truck” and “a train.” In the photos, you will notice the students lining up the Legos and stacking them to create different things.

Inside the classroom, the children shifted from their original technique of lining up the Legos to stacking them instead. In doing so, they explored factors like height and the physical, strategic process of stacking objects. The grasping, reaching and carefully placing involved in stacking and lining up the blocks engaged muscles in the children’s hands and arms, improving their fine motor skills.

During this time, we also sorted the colors and counted how many bricks were in front of the students. Some of the children even began counting the circles on top of the Legos. Sorting the blocks allowed the children to practice color recognition, classification and categorization. Counting the blocks reinforced mathematical skills such as number recognition and addition.

Along with the cognitive skills practiced in this activity, the children also built upon their social skills. They worked together as a team in conceptualizing and implementing the construction of their trucks, trains and other creations. In doing so, they learned to share resources and how to create one cohesive plan from the many thoughts and ideas of different-minded individuals.

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.

Mango Exploration

We recently introduced a new and exciting fruit to the classroom- Mango! The yellow fruit has sparked a great deal of interest in the students, launching many a conversation and opportunity for exploration.

After conducting investigations of the inside and outside of the mangos, the students began a yellow color exploration. Throughout the week, the children compared and matched other yellow objects that could be found in the room. A few of these materials were Legos, flowers, play dough and paint.

Conducting comparisons between objects is important because it encourages close attention to detail and engages problem-solving skills. Making simple comparisons between physical properties lays a solid foundation for discovering commonalities between more complex concepts in the future.

Students used the yellow paint to mimic the inside of the fruit. They used the paint in both the classroom and at the light table, allowing them to examine how different lighting impacts a color’s appearance. The play dough was useful for constructing models of the other yellow objects the children observed. Even the play dough containers were used!

Creating models of the items that the children compared required problem solving along with a great deal of imagination and creativity. Creating their own interpretations allowed them to exercise self-expression. Using their hands to shape play dough, control a paintbrush or work with small Lego pieces builds the children’s hand muscles, which enhances fine motor skills needed for future tasks like writing.

While working with play dough or paint may just seem like fun play to children, they are actually engaging in an important aspect of cognitive and behavioral development. Children use modeling as a way to learn about the world around them. Creating a flower out of play dough requires the child to carefully study the flower. As a result, they learn a great deal about its shape, color, texture etc. Modeling also increases an understanding of symbolism and the ability to make connections between two objects while remaining aware of their separate identities. 

The students also explored mangos with Ms. Gabby during a Think Tank session and as their Food as Language. These encounters allowed the children to use multiple senses while making their observations. They tasted the mango, took in its bright color and felt the textural differences of its various parts. This experience fostered relationship-building opportunities and a sense of community as the children communicated with one another regarding the fruit and worked together to squish it between their fingers.  

They had fun exploring the different parts of the mango: outside, inside and seeds.

The growth progress of our plants – Roots

Our students have been participating in an ongoing study of plants. Our outdoor garden has been a great source of interest for the students, especially the eggplants that are growing. These purple veggies have been the choice of study in Think Tank.

This plant exploration has introduced the children to a variety of plants that several of them have never encountered before, such as leeks. It has also helped them understand how plants grow, as well as the physical attributes of each plant such as shape and size. Children discussed the science behind flowers/plants and have observed the growth process of the leeks, carrot tops and eggplant seeds.

During the observation, the class noticed that the leeks had roots growing, while the eggplant seeds did not. Several of the students formed hypotheses to help explain why the plants might differ in such a way. One student mentioned it takes time for the eggplant to grow. Two other students also noted that the seeds do not have roots because they grow on trees.

The class expressed their observations through an artistic medium, creating a drawing with sharpies showing the growth process of the roots. While they were drawing some conversed. “The roots are at the bottom” and “the roots are sucking out the water to grow.”

The class was introduced to the word Sprout:  \ˈsprau̇t\ to grow, spring up, or come forth as or as if a sprout (Merriam-webster). We asked the class, “What does it mean to sprout?” Some of the responses were:

·       “Sprout means that flowers are growing”

·       “Sprouting means that the leek is growing a new plant”

·       “Sprouting means growing”

This plant exploration has been packed with variety of learning elements, making it a very valuable experience. Earth and Life Sciences were incorporated as the students studied the physical attributes, growth processes and natural environments of plants. Understanding scientific processes and using comparisons and observations about items to draw conclusions are all important scientific skills for children to master in order to have more meaningful learning experiences and interactions with the world around them.

We incorporated literacy into this exploration by working on our writing skills. The children created sentences with the new words introduced such as sprout and soil. Writing, along with drawing, build upon fine motor skills and are both great tools for children to express their personal thoughts and ideas.

The class was able to further their exploration by going outside, and as a group they were able to identify each plant. Working together to identify the plants and sharing their different opinions and explanations with one another allowed the children to foster positive relationships, build upon their interpersonal communication skills and participate in team building.

The exploration built upon foundational aspects of cognitive development. The children obtained a greater understanding of cause-and-effect as they observed the relationship between caring for the garden and the growth of the plants. In discussing reasons why one plant might have different properties and growing processes from another, the children practiced problem solving. They built upon their classification and memory skills by noting different plant’s attributes and using their knowledge about each type to identify the plants in the garden.

We will continue to observe the growth process of our plants in class.

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.