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.

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.

Carrots and Broccoli

Gabby, our nutritionist, visits our class every week for our Think Tank session, which supports our curriculum with food. Healthy food like fruits and vegetables play an important role in our classroom because they teach us about the natural world, are interesting to learn about and come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Not to mention they make a tasty snack.

During a recent Think Tank session we got to explore two interesting vegetables- carrots and broccoli. The children got to put all of their senses to use while investigating the vegetables. Some thoughts and questions that we came across about while exploring the food were:

  • How does it feel?
  • How many do we have?
  • How does it smell?
  • Different shapes and colors

The children made observations using their senses to compare and contrast the two vegetables. This process encourages valuable researching skills such as attention to detail and careful observation. The children enjoyed feeling the different textures of each vegetable and discussing how different they look. One of our favorite things to do was discuss color and smell!

Having a group discussion in which children can share their opinions and observations is important because it allows children to express their thoughts in an encouraging, supportive environment, gives them an opportunity to learn about their peers’ opinions and teaches them to respectfully agree or disagree. All of this is meaningful in building a child’s communication skills, personal relationships and self-confidence.

Along with increasing communication, observational and social skills, this experience also doubled as a math lesson. The children counted the different vegetables. They noted the different shapes and sizes of the vegetables, enhancing shape identification and measurement skills. Also, playing with new or different foods and learning about them in fun, interesting ways increases a child’s chances of enjoying the food more. The more acquainted they are to the food, the more likely they are to feel comfortable snacking on it later. 

A food encounter like this one is important because it allows children to freely explore and become acquainted with a food at their own pace, in their own way. You will notice in several of the photos that some of the children spent time smelling the food by pushing it onto their noses. There were also some children who chose to see if they could combine the two veggies, pushing the carrot into the top of the broccoli. The encounter is based upon each child’s personal interests. We encourage this because we believe that a child’s personal interests drive some of their best personal learning experiences. 

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.

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.

Observing Oranges on the Light Table

“Don’t play with your food!” is a common phrase directed at children. Typically, children are given food with one purpose: to eat it. However, our philosophy supports quite the opposite. We believe in allowing time for children to explore the food, experience it using all of their senses, grasp where it comes from and eventually learn to prepare it.

This week, the star of our food exploration was the orange. We brought whole and sliced oranges for the children to interact with. The children held the whole oranges, taking note of the fruit’s characteristics in its most natural state. The slices of oranges were placed on the light table for the children to investigate, allowing them to take a closer look at the inner workings of the fruit.

As the children interacted with the fruit in its different forms, we talked about:

  • Color
  • Smell
  • Texture
  • The name of the fruit
  • How many there were
  • How to prepare and cut it to eat

Allowing children to have this kind of exploration time with food opens the door to a variety of learning experiences. Mathematics was involved as the children counted the produce and number of slices. Practicing the name of the fruit enhanced communication skills, broadening vocabulary and word/object association.

In learning more about the fruit’s properties the children gain a higher level of comfort with the food and are more likely to give it a try and enjoy it. In learning to prepare it, the children obtain a sense of independence and accomplishment.

By engaging all of their senses, rather than taste alone, the children gained a deeper understanding of the fruit. As this happens, children learn to view food as something more than a snack. It becomes a learning mechanism, a source of artistic inspiration and a new way to look at and experience the natural world around them.  

 

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.