Exploring Footprints

Lately our students have shown quite a bit of interest in the toy dinosaurs we have in our classroom. Our curriculum encourages forming provocations based upon student interests to achieve optimum levels of engagement and to satisfy their existing curiosity. In this exploration, we played off of their interest in dinosaurs by bringing out some of the toys and paints in a variety of colors.

Once the materials were made available, we stepped back and let the exploring begin! Pairing the new, exciting toys with a more familiar tool like paint allowed the children to have a fun, relaxed time of free-play and learning.

The children quickly began to dip the dinosaurs in the paint. They then placed the dinosaurs on the paper, creating footprints. Each dinosaur left a unique set of print marks, varying in shape and size. Eventually the footprints turned into whole sets of tracks, showcasing different colors and patterns on the paper.

Creating, observing and comparing different shapes, sizes and patterns are foundational concepts of mathematics and geometry. This activity also allowed the children to engage and build upon other skill sets ranging from color identification to interpersonal communication.

Not explicitly a team activity, the children were free to individually create and paint in accordance with their own imagination. However, sharing space, paint and tools allowed them to practice working side by side, fostering a comfortable environment for any desired relationship building or collaboration to take place.

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!

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.

Playing with our Colored Salt Shaker

A few weeks ago the children created paintings using ice-cream salt and watercolors. We collected the extra salt from their paintings, dried it and put it inside our clear fascinator boxes to create a new exploration. Once the children got their hands on the boxes, they immediately picked up on the percussive possibilities.

The children all shook the boxes around joyfully and banged them on the table. One child especially enjoyed shaking the box up and down with both hands while “singing” loudly. He shows exceptional interest in music and is always making a rhythm, dancing or being musical in class.

This experience primarily engaged the students’ sense of hearing. The children get in touch with their musical side, gathering an understanding of rhythm and volume. They learned about cause and effect, discovering that the harder and faster they shook their box, the louder and quicker the sound. This drew a connection between physical force, speed and the creation of rhythm.

You will notice in the videos that the children respond and react differently to the sounds of their peers shaking their boxes. Two of the children spent some time trading off, with on child shaking his box first, and another responding by shaking her box. The idea that communication can exist through music is shown through these interactions.

Ultimately, music and rhythm are important forms of emotional expression. The physical technique and force used when shaking the boxes can serve as an emotional and creative outlet. Shaking the boxes more rapidly and forcefully can exert more extreme emotions like excitement, joy or anger; where as shaking the boxes softly might provide a more soothing experience.

Playing with rhythm and sound is not only a fun experience, but also a great way to connect with oneself, interact with others and express emotion and creativity.

Caterpillar Environment

The children are continuing to explore the fascinating world of caterpillars! We have been monitoring the caterpillars in the classroom by recreating their environment in a see-through container. In doing so, the children understand what elements are necessary for the caterpillars to live and what type of environment or habitat they need to survive.

When asked what they see they in the container they identified leaves, branches, flowers, water and the caterpillars. The children were asked what they think an “environment” is. Here were some of their thoughts on environments and their contents:

·      “An area and surroundings.”

·      “It’s a circle of life.”

·       “Caterpillars need chrysalises to turn into butterflies!”

Following their explanations, we laid out paper, scissors, glue, yarn, tissue paper and branches. The students used the materials to re-create what they thought the caterpillar’s environment might look like on paper. The children used their prior knowledge, gained by studying and observing the caterpillars, to formulate and document their own ideas of environments. We strongly support the documentation of children’s work, as it is key to showing levels of progress in understanding and development.

This project allowed the children to be a part of an environment that was rich in open-ended materials and invoked engagement, construction and inventiveness. By vocalizing their different definitions of environments, the children were able to practice articulating and refining their own ideas based on the feedback and thoughts of others.

Extended periods of interaction with nature is important because it allows the students to gain a full understanding of scientific concepts. The deep level of observation involved in this exploration not only furthers an understanding of natural processes and lifecycles, but also instills an appreciation of and deep interest in the natural world that is key in developing into an environmentally responsible individual.

Cauliflower Soup

Over the course of this week, the students in Wonderland Class learned a great deal about an important part of the human body by studying about bones. As a part of the study, the students were asked what they might need to keep their bones strong. Some of their answers were:

  • “Exercise and lifting stuff!” (The student was referring to working out to keep our bones strong.)
  • “Drink milk. It has protein!” (The student was telling us about protein and where it can be found.)
  • “Our bones break without good stuff for them.” (The student was telling us what happens when our bones do not get what they need.)

Student feedback has a great deal of influence on our classroom projects. Because we believe learning should be student led, we use questions and statements from students to determine the direction of projects. These statements influence the project work because it helps the teachers analyze how much the children know, in which direction their minds are going or what areas they need practice or improvement in.

After this conversation, the children were introduced to the mineral calcium and learned about its role in the human body. After doing some research, we decided to make calcium rich recipe- Cauliflower Soup. During the process of creating this recipe, the children were also introduced to a new vegetable that many of them hadn’t been familiar with - a leek.

After discussing our ingredients and their smells, textures and physical characteristics, the children began measuring and adding fractions with our measuring cups. Once we had all of the ingredients mixed, we took our pot to the kitchen where they let it simmer until snack time.

Throughout this experience the children got to practice their research and mathematical skills, both of which are foundational aspects of learning. They also learned about the process of cooking, and how to do so in a healthy way, which instills a sense of accomplishment and independence. Understanding the roles of vitamins and minerals and how to cook healthily are all important in maintaining a healthy body.

The cauliflower soup was a recipe that the children really enjoyed! It was a delicious treat for our taste buds, healthy for our bodies and an exciting intellectual endeavor. While consuming it was an enjoyable experience, being able to discuss its benefits as we ate together also served as a fun, communal learning experience.

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.

Exploring Music

During our most recent Music Think Tank with Mr. T, a piano was reintroduced to the children. The children have a strong understanding of patterns using colors and sounds. To take our exploration one step further, the children were asked to create a pattern using paper and markers.

Over the last few months, the children have developed the skills to create sequences quickly and easily. The children’s marks have gradually improved with each pattern, becoming neater and more precise. Each key on the piano was labeled with a small piece of colored paper and once the children finished their sequences, they were asked to perform them on the instrument.

Before the children can play any key to create a sound, they must be able to identify, recognize and match the various colors. This sound-sight exploration has taught the children to do all of the above. Color recognition and name identification are both stepping-stones in childhood development. Early identification of colors helps to create the cognitive link between visual clues and words, engaging the child’s senses while enhancing their vocabulary skills.

Through this activity, the children learned that patterns are everywhere. They exist in colors, in sounds and even in behaviors such as daily routines. Understanding the importance of patterns, and how to identify and interpret them, is an important foundational skill for more complex mathematical, scientific and communicative tasks that the children will come across as their education progresses.

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. 

 

Painting with Oranges

We regularly incorporate painting into our weekly activities, allowing the children to interact with different paint colors, types, techniques and utensils to express themselves and make beautiful pictures. This week we got creative with our painting utensil and used oranges to make art.

To begin this exploration, we sliced the oranges into halves and gave the children red, yellow and orange paint. The children then dipped the oranges into the paint and “stamped” it onto the paper creating circles. Some of the children began to scoop the inside of the orange out and use the inside to paint with, while others squeezed the juice onto the paper to use as type of paint.

Painting plays an important role in our curriculum because it allows children to express themselves freely, exploring new concepts and documenting personal thoughts and ideas on paper. In this exploration, each child was able to freely determine what technique they wanted to adopt in this orange painting experience, allowing them to explore at their own pace and satisfy their personal curiosities. This builds self-confidence and a positive connotation towards being adventurous and trying new things.

Incorporating an uncommon tool (like an orange) into a common activity is valuable because it challenges the children to jump out of their comfort zone, reevaluate their perceptions of the world around them and practice problem solving. In this activity, the children were able to take an item that they usually associate with snack time and learn to use it as a tool. Working with the oranges to create the desired images, textures and colors encouraged the children to think outside the box and learn through trial and error.

Along with strengthening cognitive skills, this hands-on exploration also built upon fine motor skills. Actions involved in squeezing the juice, cleaning out the inside of the fruit, applying various levels of pressure while “stamping” and reaching to different points of the paper all strengthened the muscles in the children’s fingers, hands and arms.

Interacting with ordinary objects in unordinary ways shows children that things are not always what they seem. When imagination and creativity are applied, children are more engaged. With this spark of interest comes more attention to detail, allowing the children to notice characteristics of the item that they might not pick up on otherwise when their primary focus is getting the fruit from their plate to their stomach.

Sound Exploration

The following collections of photos illustrate all of the different materials we recently used to investigate sound. Our curriculum is heavily based on the “hundred languages” of children, or the ways in which children can express their perception of the world around them. Music is one of those languages. We also focus on experiences that excite students’ senses (sound in this case).

Using water bottle ‘shakers’ filled with different materials, we were able to talk about “loud vs. quiet,” or sound level and dynamics. The introduction of musical instruments allowed students to hear thumping drum sounds, the tinkling noise of the chimes and the knocking sounds from the wooden sticks. The children particularly loved the plastic colored sticks, banging them together and using them to strike different materials inside and outside of the classroom.

Hands on explorations of music and sound are extremely valuable because they provide students with an emotional outlet and tools for self-expression. Along with studying sounds, this experience also allowed the children to apply mathematical skills like addition (counting each time they hit the colored sticks together). It also allowed them to take note of the interesting exteriors of the instruments (discussing the different colors of the sticks).

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"